State regulators say 91,000 bushels of soybeans must be destroyed, three years after just a small portion was grown on land that had sediment from a Kalamazoo River Superfund site.
Only 145 bushels were harvested from the land. But here's the problem: Those soybeans were stored with thousands of additional bushels, likely worth more than $800,000 in fall 2016. The agriculture department said the soybeans are indistinguishable and can't be sorted.
"That has magnified the ramifications," Brad Deacon, director of legal affairs at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, told The Associated Press. "The unfortunate part is they were comingled with perfectly good grain from other farms."
Since 2016, the soybeans have been locked up under state order in Hamilton in Allegan County. The 145 bushels were grown by Golden Grain Farms and sold for $1,300 to CHS, a global Minnesota-based farm cooperative with operations in Michigan.
CHS recently filed a lawsuit against Golden Grain, seeking unspecified compensation for all 91,000 bushels and disclosing details about the unusual controversy. Golden Grain didn't return messages this week seeking comment. CHS declined to comment.
Soybeans, which are high in protein, are typically turned into animal feed. But they're also used to make oil and food for human consumption as well as biodiesel fuel.
The soybeans harvested by Golden Grain were grown on land that couldn't be used for farming, according to state regulators. The restriction was in place because dredged spoils, or sediment, from the Kalamazoo River had been placed on the land. The river was contaminated for years by polychlorinated biphenyls, also known as PCBs.
CHS' lawsuit quotes Golden Grain owner Tom Brink as saying that growing soybeans on the soil was the "biggest mistake" of his life. Nonetheless, CHS and Golden Grain repeatedly reached out to the agriculture department to try to come up with a compromise. In a 2017 letter, Golden Grain's lawyer said there was no direct evidence that the soybeans were contaminated and any pollutants in the ground were insignificant.
The state, however, wasn't swayed. Federal regulators supported the agriculture department.
"The soybeans are not fit for human or animal use and destruction is the only viable path," Deacon told CHS in June.
CHS has proposed sending the beans to a landfill or burning them.