TROUBLE BREWING

THE TUCKER FAMILY SAYS HAY GROWN BY ANHEUSER-BUSCH GAVE ITS DAIRY COWS A ROYAL HANGOVER.

Tucker says that after he called the agriculture department, Duane Sellmer arrived at the dairy with a check to buy back the hay. "He had a loader and three semis and he said, `We want to buy this stuff back so you can get some good hay,'" Tucker says. Tucker says that when he began taking additional samples of the hay for further testing, Sellmer tried to discourage him, asserting it would reduce the weight of the hay and the amount of the reimbursement check.

Sellmer's superiors at Nutri-Turf instructed him not to speak to Westword. But in a June 6, 1991, deposition taken by Robert Ray, Sellmer conceded that he and his boss decided to buy back the Tuckers' hay. He also said that Nutri-Turf didn't notify any of its other customers about possible nitrate problems following the March 1990 cattle die-off at CSU's Maxwell Ranch.

The Tuckers brought suit against Anheuser-Busch in February of 1991, alleging that Sellmer's representation of the Nutri-Turf hay as dairy quality constituted fraud, and demanding compensation for lost milk production and other damages related to their use of Nutri-Turf hay. In addition to $470,000 in actual losses, the family is seeking exemplary damages against the beer company.

Anheuser-Busch officials refuse comment beyond a statement issued by Gary Bovard, director of operations for Nutri-Turf. "This lawsuit does not have merit because the facts do not support Tucker Dairy's claim," says Bovard's statement. "Because the trial is about to start, there's nothing further I can say at this time."

But through the course of the lawsuit, Anheuser-Busch's attorneys have offered a wide variety of arguments to support their case. Among other things, DeSisto and Lillie have claimed that Nutri-Turf was not responsible for the condition of the hay sold to Tucker Dairy. Arguing for dismissal of the case, the attorneys initially asserted that the Tolles' company, Big T Hay, was responsible because Big T "took title" to the hay before selling it to the Tuckers. Robert Ray responded that Duane Sellmer had initiated the sales and had admitted in his deposition that the Tolles were agents hired only to cut and deliver the hay. The judge ruled in favor of the Tuckers.

Last February the Tuckers tried settling their dispute with Anheuser-Busch through arbitration. A retired judge presided. "He kept comparing our dairy to a shoe store," Chuck Tucker says. The judge thought $35,000 should settle the affair. The Tuckers walked out.

Chuck Tucker says he would rather deal with cows than people. "Maybe they kick once in a while," he notes, "but they don't argue with you." When the Tuckers and their attorney met with Charlie's old friend Marvin Tolle to discuss the dispute, they hoped he would testify on their behalf. The men's relationship as Charlie saw it was more neighborly than businesslike. But when Robert Ray asked Tolle about the hay Big T delivered to the dairy, Marvin Tolle backed Nutri-Turf. "He said, sitting there facing Dad, `There's nothing wrong with that hay,'" says Chuck Tucker. "That hurt Dad real bad, hearing that from him." When contacted by Westword, Marvin Tolle refused to comment.

Chuck Tucker allows that working a dairy can be wearing. "You're basically on 24-hour call," he says. Once, he adds, "my wife asked me if I was going to do this the rest of my life. I know doing this you're not going to set the world on fire," he says. Tucker pauses, searching for the right words. "But it's your life."

Meanwhile, Duane Sellmer has found himself in the middle of yet another dispute over Nutri-Turf hay. Last March Anheuser-Busch brought suit against his brother Allen Sellmer, owner of Sellmer Feedlots in the town of Ault. In the suit, attorneys for the beer company claim that Allen owes Anheuser-Busch more than $40,000 plus interest for Nutri-Turf hay he bought in l993. Allen Sellmer declines to comment. But according to Keith Burman, his former partner in the feedlot, Allen Sellmer believes the hay poisoned a number of animals that had been boarded at his lot, sickening some and killing others.

And even Anheuser-Busch itself may have less than complete confidence in the hay grown with plant effluent. During Duane Sellmer's deposition with Robert Ray, the Tuckers' attorney asked if the prized show horses residing at the brewery's Clydesdale Hamlet were fed Nutri-Turf hay. The answer was no.

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