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Potato farmers across the U.S. facing multi-million dollar lawsuit

By Stephanie Hale-Lopez
Published On: Jun 14 2013 07:22:38 PM CDT

The lawsuit was filed against the United Potato Growers of America and more than 20 other defendants, many from the gem state.

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho -

Idaho's most popular product and the farmers who grow it are in the middle of a multi-million dollar controversy.

A wholesale grocer based in Kansas is claiming potato farmers across the country are illegally price-fixing their spuds.

Idaho potatoes account for 30 percent of the nation's supply.

The lawsuit was filed against the United Potato Growers of America and more than 20 other defendants, many from the gem state.

In the 86-page lawsuit, Associated Wholesale Grocers claims potato growers are illegally manipulating the market to reduce potato output and fix prices.

Paul Patterson is an agricultural economist for the University of Idaho. He said the allegations don't add up.

"Basically, it's supply and demand," said Patterson. "If there's more supply than there is demand, prices are going to fall dramatically -- particularly for agricultural commodities."

The lawsuit also claims the cooperatives formed by potato farmers are a conspiracy to rip off buyers, but Patterson said it's the opposite.

He said farmers don't have control over their destiny and the co-ops bring stability.

United Potato Grower's is a co-op. In a statement to Local News 8 and KIDK Eyewitness News, the group said:

"(our) goal has been to help growers provide quality potatoes at reasonable prices to American consumers.  We have always acted openly and within the bounds of the law.  We are confident in our legal position and look forward to a favorable outcome in court."

Two pieces of legislation protect farm co-operatives from being targeted, so Patterson said it will be up to how the courts interpret the law.

The defendants are more than just farmers in Idaho.

There are members in 12 states and represent more than 80 percent of all the potato acres throughout the country; so experts say the outcome of this lawsuit has the potential to really change the farming industry.

Because of the amount of material involved in this lawsuit, it most likely won't go to court for another two to three years.

The lawsuit was originally filed in Kansas, but was moved to the U.S. District Court in Idaho earlier this week.

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