Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013 12:00 PM
SALEM -- A potato industry executive says he is confident growers will ultimately emerge victorious from a lawsuit challenging the industry's authority to work with growers to limit production.
Beginning in 2005, United Potato Growers of America worked with growers to scale back production under the authority of the Capper-Volstead Act in an attempt to raise prices.
The 1922 act exempts farmer cooperatives from some antitrust regulations.
The strategy resulted in higher potato prices each of the next four years.
Potato growers abandoned the strategy and let Wright go in 2009, but rehired Wright last year after prices were down in all but one of the last three years.
"I am really quite confident we are going to win," said Jerry Wright, CEO of United Potato Growers of America. "But it is going to take three years of litigation to get through the courts."
Wright's comments came at the annual meeting of the Oregon Grass Seed Bargaining Association.
Chief U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill in Idaho issued a ruling in December 2011 that the potato cooperative is not exempt from antitrust regulations. But Wright said the ruling is nonbinding and he is confident it will be reversed.
"It is very clear that ... Capper-Volstead (Act) immunizes us from any antitrust lawsuits," he said. "And the Capper-Volstead Act says if anyone has an antitrust (complaint), they need to take it to the secretary of agriculture."
Wright said potato growers across the national are helping pay legal fees.
"It's half-a-dozen potato growers in Idaho that are being sued," Wright said. "But all of the potato growers nationwide have gotten together ... and they are helping to support the legal case.
"That is a credit to them and their belief in the system to basically say, 'You know what, this thing is working and we need to make sure that our brethren in Idaho have somebody standing by them, because if they cave, then the rest of us all fall apart,'" Wright said.
The suit was filed by wholesale potato buyer Brigiotta's Farmland Produce and Garden Center in Jamestown, N.Y.