BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- A battle between grocers and potato growers has been silently hitting shoppers' pocketbooks, according to a U.S. wholesaler accusing America's spud farmers of driving up prices while spying on farmers with satellites and aircraft fly-overs to enforce strict limits on how many tubers they can grow.
Associated Wholesale Grocers' lawsuit against United Potato Growers of America and two dozen other defendants was shifted this week to U.S. District Court in Idaho, America's top potato-producing state with 30 percent of the nation's supply.
It's unclear how much the alleged price-fixing has bumped up the cost of frozen french fries or a steaming spud served with a steak, but the case isn't small potatoes: They're most popular vegetable, worth billions in sales each year, and their journey from the field to the table is complex. Farmers trying to make a profit dependent on weather, water and fuel costs are pitted against grocers who worry they're getting gouged.
And while the U.S. Department of Justice hasn't joined this case, its lawyers have been examining how large, modern agricultural cooperatives like the United Potato Growers are employing nearly century-old antitrust exemptions to strengthen their hands.