Potato farmers are not exempt from antitrust laws that prohibit collusion, including "acreage reductions, production restrictions or collusive crop planning," according to a federal judge.
Chief U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill in Idaho has ruled that such activities among potato growers are not covered by the Capper-Volstead Act, which exempts farmer cooperatives from some federal antitrust rules.
"Individual freedom to produce more in times of high prices is a quintessential safeguard against Capper-Volstead abuse, which Congress recognized in enacting the statute," Winmill said in the decision.
The ruling stems from litigation against the United Potato Growers of America by a wholesale potato buyer, Brigiotta's Farmland Produce and Garden Center of Jamestown, N.Y., and several consumers.
However, the judge did dismiss the original complaint against several companies associated with the United Potato Growers of America because plaintiffs did not sufficiently connect them to the alleged conspiracy.
Even so, Winmill has allowed the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint in which they could revise the allegations against specific companies. Plaintiffs must also clarify how consumers were affected by the cooperative's actions.
Only the Dole Food Co. -- which licensed its brand to one of the farmers -- and an affiliated cooperative of Canadian potato farmers have been permanently excluded from the litigation.