A lawsuit involving Langley blueberry farmers alleges that just before a foreclosure sale the fields were sabotaged with weed killer.
The lawsuit saw farmers Malkiat Singh Baring and Satwant Kaur Baring sue Farm Credit Canada, a realtor, and the previous owners of a 60-acre Langley blueberry farm the Barings bought in July of 2017.
The Barings bought the farm for $5.5 million just after Farm Credit Canada (FCC) had foreclosed on the property because the previous owners had failed to make mortgage payments.
FCC put the property up for sale in the spring of 2017, and the Barings saw it for the first time on May 29, 2017, according to a B.C. Supreme Court decision by Justice Warren Milman.
“They were sufficiently impressed by what they saw that on the following day, May 30, 2017, they presented FCC with an offer to purchase the property,” Milman wrote.
The Barings were in a hurry to close the deal on the land because it was blueberry season. They expected to “reap the benefit” of the 2017 harvest, which they believed would mean revenue of about $750,000 from a crop already on the blueberry bushes.
Their contract stipulated the land was to be sold “as is” on the date of the completion of the sale.
The Barings were hoping to take possession by July 7, but the previous owners launched an appeal of the sale. Although the appeal was dismissed, this caused a 10-day delay, and the Barings took possession on July 17.
Although they had a right to inspect the property during the time between signing the contracts and the closing of the land sale, the Barings didn’t go onto the farm, claiming the previous owners had threatened them.
“As a result, I did not feel it was safe or a good idea to go onto the blueberry farm,” Satwant Baring said.
On July 13, the Barings did drive by the property, and claimed they saw strange activity.
They allegedly saw two men applying spray to the blueberry bushes, which they thought was unusual given the time of day and of the season.
After taking over the land, they noticed “many of the blueberry bushes were turning brown and not looking healthy,” Satwant Baring said in an affidavit.
“We investigated the health of the crop and determined that someone had recently applied herbicides, 2,4-D and glyphosate, commonly known as “Round-Up” to the blueberry bushes,” Satwant said. “These are very powerful weed killers and in our experience are never applied directly to a blueberry bush, as they are intended to, and can, kill the plant.”
The previous owners have denied causing any damage to the crops. None of the claims against them have been tested in court.
According to the Barings, the 2017 crop was destroyed, and many bushes were killed and had to be replaced by new plants that will not mature and yield the same amount of berries for years.
The lawsuit against the previous owners is scheduled to go to trial in October, but in the meantime, Milman has ruled that Farm Credit Canada is not at fault.
In a judgment in September, Milman ruled that there was no basis for the Barings to make a claim against FCC based on the wording of their contract.
FCC was awarded court costs and the claim was dismissed.