California carrot giant Grimmway Farms, Bakersfield, has filed a lawsuit against neighbors and sheep owners Fernando and Yvonne Iturriria.

A fence separating a Grimmway Farms field from grazing land used by the Iturriria"s sheep collapsed, and the sheep began grazing on the Grimmway acreage, the suit charges.

Because there was the potential that E. coli-contaminated carrots might get to market, Grimmway elected to destroy all of the produce on the farmland the sheep had visited and adjacent farmland, a total of more than 75 acres, said Jeffrey Green, general counsel for Grimmway.

"As soon as we learned of the intrusion, we immediately identified the area where the sheep had been or may have been and designated the area as nonharvest acreage," he said.

"Our long-established good agricultural practices strictly prevented us from harvesting the field."

The Iturririas have been cooperative, Green said.

"The problem is not with the owners of the sheep, but with their insurance company," he said.

As a result, he said, Grimmway took legal action. The suit asks for more than $230,000 and attorney fees.

A preliminary hearing is set for July 14, but Green said it could be several months before the suit is resolved.

"We"re in the very preliminary stages. The purpose of the July hearing is to meet with the judge hearing the case to help him to determine where we are in the litigation," he said.