NAPI outlines grievances against farm tenants

Noel Lyn Smith

FARMINGTON — The civil complaint filed this week by Navajo Agricultural Products Industry against two nontribal companies and their owners provides additional insight to the business relationship between the entities.

Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers field worker Terrence Tesethlikai works with his crew during the harvest on Sept. 28 at a Navajo Agricultural Products Industry farm site south of Farmington.

NAPI filed the complaint and a motion for a temporary restraining order against Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers Inc., Upland Desert Popcorn LLC, and owners Richard and John Hamby on Tuesday in Shiprock District Court. The two court filings seek to stop both companies from conducting business on the Navajo Nation and allege they are violating a number of tribal laws.

For many years, NAPI has leased land to Pumpkin Patch to grow pumpkins and ornamental squash, as well as leasing land to its sister company, Upland Desert Popcorn, to grow popping corn.

Pumpkin Patch denied any wrongdoing in a press release issued on Thursday.

"We will argue that we are in compliance with Navajo law (and) NAPI's desired relief would hurt hundreds of Navajo citizens," the company stated in the release.

Company officials previously have said that both companies have at least 30 full-time employees and hire up to 600 temporary workers during the harvest season.

The 13-page complaint alleges Pumpkin Patch and Upland Desert Popcorn have not registered as a foreign corporation with the tribe's business regulatory department, a violation of the Navajo Corporation Act.

The complaint alleges both companies are also violating the Navajo Business Procurement Act and the tribe's Civil Trespass Act by "holding over" property at NAPI, meaning the two companies still have facilities and equipment located on the land in question, even though their lease has expired.

The complaint states the tribal enterprise entered into an agreement with both companies in January 2008 to use 1,100 acres of land to grow pumpkins and 3,000 acres to grow popping corn.

The agreement was amended to modify the number of acres, payments and other provisions from 2008 to 2014.

In the most recent agreement, the companies were authorized to use up to 4,700 acres of farmland through Dec. 31, 2016.

The complaint states that during negotiations for the most recent agreement, NAPI made clear its intent to competitively bid the 4,700 acres when the agreement expired.

According to an affidavit from NAPI CEO Wilton Charley, which was included in the court filings, the tribal enterprise solicited requests for proposals from May 2016 to June 2016. When no proposals were submitted for the land, NAPI made plans to develop the 4,700 acres for its own use, the affidavit states.

The tribal enterprise also alleges that Pumpkin Patch and Upland Desert Popcorn owe it $662,544 in fees.

Charley's affidavit states that due to a siphon break last May, NAPI was forced to stop delivering water to all its contractors, including Pumpkin Patch and Upland Desert Popcorn. Both companies did tell NAPI it was likely their crops would be damaged due to the lack of water, but there was no discussion to consider the companies not paying fees to NAPI, the affidavit states.

Pumpkin Patch called the action by the tribal enterprise a "smokescreen" because NAPI owes the companies money due to crop damages caused by the pipeline siphon failure.

As of this morning, the court had not taken action on the matter.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.