On July 1, it was announced that a $750 million settlement had been struck to compensate farmers for losses associated with the 2006 discovery of Bayer-owned GM traits in exported U.S. rice. Eligible farmers and landlords now face an Oct. 10 deadline to sign up for the settlement.

“No farmer is required to participate in the settlement, it’s certainly voluntary,” said St. Louis-based attorney Don Downing. However, “any farmer who wants to participate needs to sign up in the next couple of weeks, if not immediately.”

Downing – who spoke with Farm Press on Friday morning – explained the settlement filing process, the reasons for not being tardy in filing a claim and how the farmer/landlord payments are constructed. Among his comments:

On the sign-up process so far…

“There have been many additional farmers to sign up since the settlement was announced.

“We’re now encouraging everyone to be mindful of the fact that Oct. 10 is the hard and fast deadline for any farmer who wants to participate in the settlement.

“And all the eligible farmers need to know they can’t simply decide to on Oct. 9 or Oct. 10 to participate. That’s because in order to be a part of the settlement, there are documents that must be produced, claim forms that must be produced and signatures obtained.

“It’s normally about a two-week process from the time someone signs up and when a claim form is submitted to the claims administrator.”

More on the exactly what’s required for sign-up…

“Under the agreement (with Bayer), the settlement won’t become legally effective unless (producers representing) 85 percent of the average (rice) acreage planted in the country between 2006 and 2009 agree to participate.

“If a farmer has been wrestling with whether to sign up or not, they need to consult with counsel. I’d encourage them to find someone they trust. There are many fine lawyers throughout the South representing farmers in these cases. You can find them just by searching the Internet. But they need to contact a lawyer as soon as possible.

“Following that, the lawyer will typically have some documentation requests for the farmer. As part of that, the farmer will need to go to the FSA office and obtain a ‘578 form’ report of acreage. That’s the form that lists how many acres were planted on each of the farmer’s fields for each year. They need those reports for each year of 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 – the years the settlement provides payment for.

“The settlement provides a payment of $120 for each acre planted in 2006 as shown on the 578; $80 per acre for 2007; $60 for 2008; $40 for 2009; and $10 for 2010.

“The farmer will then need to return that documentation to his lawyer. At that point, the lawyer will be able to prepare the proper claim forms under the settlement.

“After that, the lawyer will send those claim forms to the farmer who needs to review everything for accuracy and then sign the forms.

“Once the lawyer obtains all the needed signatures – from farmer and landlords, if needed – then they’ll access the claims administrator’s Website and input all the data, upload the documents and then formally submit the forms. Again, that must be done by Oct. 10.

“All of this takes time. That’s why anyone who wants to participate shouldn’t wait.”

Tenant/landlord

On what happens if a farmer seeks the landlord’s portion of the settlement under a crop-share agreement…

“Every rice farmer and crop-share landlord is eligible to participate.

“In the settlement, we negotiated an opportunity for the tenant farmer to recover the landlord’s portion if (both parties) are agreeable. We thought that would be helpful because many landlords aren’t actively involved in the farming operation. They look to their tenant to take care of the paperwork and business of the farm.

“The vast majority of my client tenant-farmers are seeking their landlord’s share.

“It’s a simple process for the tenant to seek the landlord’s portion. If that’s the case, we need to know that when preparing the claim form. We’ll include the landlord’s portion in the tenant’s claim and send to the tenant two documents that each of his landlords need to sign.

“One document simply authorizes the payment from the settlement to go to the tenant. The tenant would then share that payment with the landlord in accordance with their crop-share agreement.

“The second document is a release saying if (the settlement payment is made) the landlord won’t sue Bayer over GM rice.

“So, it’s simple for a farmer to seek the landlord’s portion. But it’s very important that the landlord’s portion be included in settlement either through the tenant or, as some have decided to do, make their own individual claim.

“The reason that’s so important goes back to the 85 percent threshold. If 85 percent of all the tenants sign up and, yet, no landlords, there’s no way to meet the threshold. Some landlords receive 25 percent of the crop, some 30 percent, some a third. If you exclude the landlord portion of the crop out of the settlement, the threshold won’t be met.”

Why is there no way to know if the threshold has been met until after the deadline?

“The lawyers that represent the farmers certainly communicate among ourselves to try and keep track of how we’re progressing. But at the end of the day, 85 percent is a very high threshold.

“We’re not there yet. I can assure everyone that 85 percent of the eligible acres haven’t been submitted to the claims administrator.

“Until we get very close to the deadline, we’ll not know if we’ve met the threshold.

“One step further, after the lawyer has submitted all the documentation and uploaded it into the claims administrator’s system, (he) won’t know for certain it has been formally accepted until, probably, seven to 14 days later. The claims administrator (office) has a bunch of people going through the forms making sure they’ve been done properly.

“So, in effect, we won’t know until after the Oct. 10 deadline whether we’ve met the threshold.”

You’ll know if the threshold was met around Halloween?

“We hope we’ll know by then. A lot depends on how quickly the claims administrator is able to process and certify the claims.

“But, yes, we expect to know something by late October or, at least, by Thanksgiving.”

On sign-ups by region…

“There’s overwhelming support for this settlement in the farming community. There have been sign-ups in every (rice-growing) state.

“Since Arkansas is the largest rice-producing state, we have the largest sign-ups from that state, by far.

“But in proportion to the acreage planted in each state, each is represented very well in the settlement…

“We’re anticipating there will be over 10,000 individual claim forms filed. That’s a big chore for the claims administrator.”