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Saturday, August 16, 2014

UPDATE: Questions on commodity brokering of farm crops

Posted By on Sat, Aug 16, 2014 at 12:22 PM

click to enlarge Brokers' office in Brinkley.
  • Brokers' office in Brinkley.

The Times was working yesterday on the scandal Speaker Carter wrote about. The brokerage firm raising questions was identified by farmers we spoke to as Turner Grain in Brinkley, owned by Jason Coleman and Dale Bartlett. 

Most farmers we spoke to would not go on the record. But Chris Isbell, a rice farmer in Lonoke County we've written about because of his sake rice crop, confirmed he had a contract with Turner Grain and had not been paid. He declined to say how much he stood to lose if he wasn't paid or to say more about his business dealings with the broker, because “we don’t know which direction” the situation is going. “Nobody has refused to pay; we just haven’t been paid,” Isbell said.

A soybean farmer we talked to who asked not to be identified confirmed what the Times had been told by another source in Brinkley, and said he feared the company would have to go into bankruptcy. “I can pretty much assure you this is a big deal,” the farmer said.

Turner Grain does business with major rice and grain buyers like KBX and Tyson, the soybean farmer said. He said he stands to lose $500,000 if the business can’t pay at the price his contract was for, since soybean prices have fallen since he entered the contract. He added that 60 to 75 percent of the farmers in Monroe and other farming counties have done business with Turner Grains “on some level.”

Another rice farmer said, “Quite honestly, I was stunned to hear the news,” and he and the bean farmer who talked to the Times described Coleman and Bartlett as “good guys.” 

Efforts to reach either Coleman or Bartlett at Turner Grain have been unsuccessful; a message was left with a gentleman who answered the phone at the business. The Times was not able to confirm information from informants that some growers’ checks bounced.

Another source said that speculation in Brinkley was that the late corn crop had hurt Turner Grains’ cash flow. The corn should have been harvested in late spring, but because of late planting and the wet summer, is just now starting to come in.

Though it handles millions in contracts, the business is run out of a small office on Main Street in Brinkley and one farmer said he suspected the books were “sloppy.” “There had to be a mistake somewhere,” he said. “Major league. But as far as a scam, nothing could be further from the truth.”

The farmer also said that impact would reach beyond the farmers. “Anyone you talk to, from farmers to merchants to ag pilots, it’s going to affect everybody, especially rice and corn country in our area. It’s not just people owed money from a crop, but for contracts of grain to be delivered this fall that more and likely won’t be honored. … One owner did tell me if they could pay everyone that they owed it would be a miracle.” He said banks were “pretty antsy.”

One source said that Coleman had gotten threats at his business, but the Brinkley Police Department did not return a call from the Times to confirm that. 

Commodity brokers in Arkansas are not required to be bonded, Cynthia Edwards, deputy secretary at the state Agriculture Department, said. 

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