Heard It Through the Grape Vine | Citizens Against Government Waste

Heard It Through the Grape Vine

The WasteWatcher

What would you think of a government that believes too many raisins are being grown and harvested in a particular year so it decides to confiscate a portion of the crop?  Even worse, more often than not, the government will not pay the farmer for the portion of the crop it has taken.  Sounds almost Soviet-esque doesn’t it?  But it happens here in the United States and has been in existence for 64 years.  It was created during the Truman Administration and is called the National Raisin Reserve.  The sole “raisin d’être” is to control how many raisins reach the market-place. 

This week, the Washington Post highlighted a story of a raisin farmer that has decided to take the government on and not turn over a percentage of his raisin crop.  In fact, the farmer, a Mr. Marvin Horne, has been breaking this law for 11 years.

Why was the National Raisin Board created?  Back during World War II, the government bought lots of raisins to send our troops that were stationed overseas.  Raisin growers were very happy because they made lots of money.  But when the war ended, the huge purchases stopped, creating an over abundance of raisins causing prices to drop.  The end result was raisin farmers were not making the kind of money they had been during the war.  What to do?  Well, advocate for the creation of Marketing Order 989 of course.

What does Marketing Order 989 do?  It allows the government to take a certain amount of raisins from farmers and put them into a reserve to keep them from being sold in the market-place.  This action artificially lowers the supply of raisins, thus driving up the price of raisins that are sold.

The raisins that are confiscated are stored in warehouses around California and can be used for a variety of things such as saving them for later years, selling them overseas, feeding school children or cows.  Yes, cows.  It doesn’t really seem to matter what the Board does, as long as the confiscated raisins are kept out of the market-place.

The program is run today by the Raisin Administrative Committee, based in Fresno, California but it is overseen by the USDA.  According to the Washington Post, the committee can also sell off some of the raisins it took to either pay for its own expenses or promote raisins overseas.  If there is any money left over (there usually isn’t) the committee can give it back to the farmers.

In 2002, Farmer Horne refused to turn over his raisins to the government and as a result, he ended up in court arguing the law is unconstitutional.  (Be sure to read the Post article and the connection between Mr. Horne’s lawyer and the infamous California Dancing Raisins.)  Eventually it went to the Supreme Court and the Justices, clearly mystified that such a program still existed, gave him a partial victory.  They told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to reconsider their ruling.  If Mr. Horne should lose, he will probably go bankrupt.

Meanwhile, the Raisin Administrative Committee has stopped putting raisins into the reserve for three years.  This also provides Mr. Horne a partial victory.  And while the program can be eliminated by the USDA at anytime, there is no guarantee that will happen.   After all, President Reagan said a “government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth.”  That includes stupid and wasteful programs like the National Raisin Reserve.