Farmer claims harrasment from agricultural company

Theresa Krebs

The sun was nearing the horizon as David Brumback left his shop Tuesday night, finishing a day overseeing his 2,800-acre farming operation in southern Cooper County, Missouri.

A fourth generation farmer, Brumback has more to worry about than the unusually wet weather of the past few months and its effect on his crops. Brumback is one of more than 100 other local farmers – many of whom are customers or members of the Pilot Grove Cooperative – who have been named in a Monsanto Co. subpoena.

The subpoena requests five years worth of farm records, including Farm Service Agency reports, and seed, grain and chemical receipts.

Brumback calls himself a loyal Monsanto customer and says he believes the company has good agricultural products. But he has a number of issues with the request, from the way it was delivered to what it says about Monsanto’s treatment of its customers.

Sitting at his kitchen table in a house surrounded by corn fields, he laughs a little as he recalls “fishing” with the investigators who showed up at his shop – set back about a mile down a gravel road off Hwy. 135 – in a Ford Expedition asking for his father.

“What do you want with him?” Brumback said he asked. His father, Kenneth, died 11 years ago. After a bit of cat-and-mouse conversation, Brumback said he told the investigators they might “have a hard time” serving his dad with papers.

After admitting to being the owner of Brumback Farms Inc., the investigators instead left Brumback with a pile of legal papers, requesting farm records for the years 2000-2005.

Brumback said he has heard from other farmers that the private investigators hired by Monsanto tried to serve papers on about 10 other people who are dead.

“They just didn’t do their research,” he said. “My dad wasn’t even here to see me harvest our first crop of Round-up Ready Beans – that was in 1997. They were looking for my dad based on records they had from the co-op.”

Although the subpoena said Brumback had 45 days to respond to Monsanto’s request, he said the investigators showed up again at his farm less than a week later, asking for the records.

“During that initial 45 days, they were here 4-5 times,” Brumback said. “They’d show up at 9 at night in the pitch dark asking for more information. They’d show up in the middle of the day, just walk into my shop or find my wife and question her.”

Brumback finds the number of farmers named in this suit interesting as well: a Monsanto representative has said that of roughly 250,000 customers who buy farm products each year, over the past 10 years, the company has sued about 120 of its customers for violating written agreements.

And Brumback isn’t alone. He said although not every neighbor of his has received a subpoena from Monsanto, those who were cover the area from Sedalia to Prairie Home and Boonville.

Brumback and about 20 other farmers decided to fight back, hiring Boonville attorney Dale Reeseman. They didn’t win much – the requested records still had to be turned over – but they were able to make Monsanto come to Cooper County to pick them up rather than having to deliver them to the corporate offices in St. Louis – on their dime. The farmers’ were also reimbursed for their copying expenses, but not for their time.

“The ironic part is, they could have gotten my information from their own records,” Brumback said. He said for two of the last five years, he was a “100 percent buyer” of their products, and other years, between 60-70 percent of his farm business purchases were made with Monsanto.

He’s also worried about the future of Pilot Grove’s co-op which has its own legal battles with Monsanto.

“It’s a good thriving business that is an asset to the community,” he said. “It’s a big company trying to shut down a cooperative.

“Monsanto doesn’t care about its customers,” said Brumback. “They’re looking at the bottom line and the bottom dollar.”

Boonville Daily News