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Why Does The United States Government Need A “Raisin Reserve?”

Raisins

Until I read about a Florida Congressman who wants to eliminate it, I had no idea the United States has a “raisin reserve,” and I’ve got to wonder why it ever existed in the first place:

A Florida congressman has introduced a bill that would eliminate one of the U.S. government’s most unusual institutions: the Raisin Administrative Committee, keepers of the national raisin reserve.

The raisin reserve is a program established by the Truman administration which gives the Agriculture Department a heavy-handed power to meddle in the supply and demand for raisins.

To limit the supply of raisins on the market, the government can simply take tons of raisins from the farmers who grew them. The raisins go into a “reserve.” They are often kept off the U.S. market: sold overseas, perhaps, or given to needy schoolchildren.

Sometimes, the farmers don’t get paid a cent in return.

A decade ago, California farmer Marvin Horne defied the reserve, refusing to hand over his raisins to the government. The Agriculture Department took him to court, and this year the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court sent Horne’s case back to an appeals court in California, which will soon hear Horne’s argument that the Constitution prohibits government from taking his raisins without just compensation. Horne’s case was featured in a Washington Post article in early July.

On Thursday, Rep. Trey Radel (R)introduced a bill that would eliminate the reserve’s legal underpinnings. It would end the 1949 rule, Marketing Order 989, that created the Raisin Administrative Committee and the reserve.

“In my opinion, this is nothing short of theft,” said Radel, a freshman member from the Fort Myers area. He said he had no ties to the raisin industry or to raisin farmers, mainly located thousands of miles away in Northern California.

There does seem to be something rather unjust about a program that allows the Federal Government to step in and seize a farmer’s crops without any compensation. Indeed, it’s hard to see how such a program would not be considered a violation of the Constitution’s requirement, as set forth in the Fifth Amendment, that property cannot be taken without “just compensation.” More importantly, though, it’s hard to see where the other part of the 5th Amendment’s Takings Clause requirement, that the taking be for a “public use,” is satisfied by a program like this. On it’s face this seems to be a nothing more than an effort by the Federal Government, with the approval of the major growers no doubt, to manipulate the price of an agricultural product by artificially manipulating its supply. How that it is conceivably Constitutional is completely beyond me. And, as a practical matter, I can’t think of any conceivable reason why the price of raisins is something that the United States Congress and the Department of Agriculture ought to be concerning itself with.

No doubt this program is heavily supported by the Congressmen and Senators from those parts of the country where raisin growing is a major industry, so I would expect that even though Congressman Radel has a very good idea here, it’s not likely to go anywhere.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tillman says:

    No doubt this program is heavily supported by the Congressmen and Senators from those parts of the country where raisin growing is a major industry, so I would expect that even though Congressman Radel has a very good idea here, it’s not likely to go anywhere.

    Can’t get anything past the powerful raisin lobby, eh? Deep pockets, those people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. The answer to your simple question is, as you note, a deceptively simple answer – somewhere or another there is a “Committee of Concerned Dried Grape Sellers” that forks over the political contributions at the appropriate time. And that’s why we “need” a raisin reserve. Or do you want our dried grape sellers to go out of business and for our country to depend upon the whims of evil FOREIGN dried grape sellers?

    As to the Constitutionality of Marketing Order 989, when did that stop the government before? Without even delving into current controversies surrounding the Fourth Amendment, it can be noted that Congress has not declared war since 1941, but it seems that our military has been engaged in a lot of activities since then that kinda sorta look like war.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  3. Moosebreath says:

    Because otherwise we’d have a glut of bran?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  4. PD Shaw says:

    The original reason for the program appears to be price stability, meaning supports, but the WaPo implies that the raisins are used to fund a marketing conglomerate to promote raisins overseas, storage costs and pay its salaries and expenses.

    And if there’s any money left over, it goes back to the farmers whose raisins were taken.

    The committee is not very good at having money left over.

    “We generated $65,483,211. And we pretty well spent it all,” said Gary Schulz, the committee’s president and general manager, reviewing the books for one recent year. That year, the committee spent those millions on storage fees. Overseas promotions. Administrative overhead.

    So what, precisely, was left for the farmers?

    “Zero,” said Schulz. “They received the value of our investment.” A recent study showed that raisin advertising brought in nearly $10 in revenue for every dollar spent; however, U.S. raisin consumption has declined since 2004.

    There are a lot of agricultural programs that buy livestock or produce to support/stabilize prices, but I’ve never heard of one that seizes without compensation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. JWH says:

    They need to preserve diversity in the raisin crop. We don’t want to lose unique strains like:

    * California Raisins
    * Raisin Cain
    * Raisin d’Etre (a rare French variety)
    * Barn Raisin
    * Raisin Able Doubt
    * Drag Raisin

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  6. rjs says:

    here’s a video my buddy posted on that: Feds vs. Raisins: Small Farmers Stand Up to the USDA

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. Moosebreath says:

    @JWH:

    You’re missing a few:

    Raisin to Believe
    Raisin Aces
    Raisin Less Corn and More H*ll

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. Franklin says:

    Dry, Baby, Dry!

    /sorry, couldn’t work in any other Palin quotes because raisins aren’t a fungible commodity, although they *still* don’t flag the molecules.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Tyrell says:

    There is so much uncontrolled, unchecked, and unmonitored actions by these agencies, many of which are secret and unknown to even the president. There was the famous Kecksburg, PA incident of the ’60’s when some sort of craft crashed. Secret government agents came in, took control of private property, seized cameras, pushed people around, held people without charges, and put a full blown coverup out to the news. The government still keeps this classified.
    These agencies are above the law and apparently can act without any constitutional restraints. Obtaining warrants and observing due process is unknown to them. Countless times people have been detained and had property siezed without a warrant or any hearing in court. People cannot sue because in many cases they are dealing with agencies that officially do not even exist.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. JWH says:

    @Tyrell:

    So … you’re saying there’s a secret Raisin Reserve Agency behind all of this?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

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