The U.S. Supreme Court decides a lot of very serious, high-profile cases – gay marriage for example. However, recently, they heard one about raisins. Yes – raisins.
The Raisin Program dates back to the Great Depression of the 1930s. President Roosevelt cut the production of many farm products to reduce surplus and raise farm prices. My grandfather told me that they even killed baby pigs.
In the recent case, almost 80 years later, the government came to get raisins from the Marvin Horne farm in California. He said “no.” They fined him $700,000 and now they are in court. Under the Raisin Program, the annual crop is reviewed by the Raisin Administrative Committee. Then, the Department of Agriculture decides what percent of the farmer’s crop must be handed over to the government. The government can then give raisins to the School Lunch Program or maybe sell them and give the farmer some of the money.
Justice Breyer argued, “The government was not taking the raisins and giving the farmer nothing. He benefited from higher prices.”
Conservative Justices consider the Raisin Program to be an unconstitutional taking of private property without just compensation. Justice Roberts complained, “You come up with the truck and you take their raisins – probably in the dark of night.”
Justice Kagan pointed out, “We think this is a ridiculous program, but the ridiculousness or sensibleness of a program is not for us to decide.”
The court verdict should be announced by July. Now, to set the record straight – we have had government production control programs for years and years. Most of those control programs have been eliminated, but not all. A few years ago, the “UglyRipe® tomato,” grown in Florida, was not allowed to be sold out of that state. OFW Law was asked by a company growing the UglyRipe® tomato to help them. The Tomato Marketing Order that they were under would not allow them to sell the UglyRipe® tomato in any other state – just Florida. I did work with the USDA and eventually they lifted the Order. I saw UglyRipe® tomatoes in the supermarket here in Virginia last week.
I am not a big supporter of these government control programs. Maybe they served a purpose in the Great Depression. That’s not today. We have moved beyond that. Let the free market work.
What would your reaction be if the government came and took some of your corn after you harvested it?
John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.