USDA v. Horne: Farmers Fight to Keep Their Own Raisins

"They want us to pay for our own raisins that we grew," says Raisin Valley Farms owner Marvin Horne. "We have to buy them back!"

This is but one absurdity that Marvin and his wife Laura have faced during their decade-long legal battle with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Every year, the Hornes plant seeds, tie vines, harvest fruit, and place grapes in paper trays to create sun-dried raisins. And every year, the federal government prevents them from bringing their full harvest to market.

It's called an agriculture marketing order. Depression-era regulations meant to stabilize crop prices endanger the livelihoods of small farmers across the country, but the raisin marketing order is particularly egregious. An elected board of bureaucrats known as the Raisin Administrative Committee decides what the proper yield should be in any given year in order to meet a previously decided-upon price. Once they can estimate the size of the year's harvest, they force every farmer to surrender a percentage of their crop to raisin packers. The packers then place the raisins in a "reserve pool," a special holding vat for raisins that cannot be sold in the U.S. Eventually, the packers can sell the reserve pool raisins overseas at highly discounted prices set by the government or funnel them into school lunch programs for next to nothing.

The farmers were always supposed to get a percentage of the money raised from the reserve pool raisins, but as profit margins dwindled over the years, so did the return to farmers. The tipping point came in 2003, when farmers received zero dollars in return for the 47 percent of the crop they had surrendered.

"You can't work for a whole year and then give 47 percent of what you made away and still keep that business afloat," says Laura Horne.

Frustrated and desperate, the Hornes started packing and selling their own raisins, which they believed would allow them to circumvent the marketing order. In doing so, they inadvertantly sparked a small revolution, as other independent raisin farmers saw their initial success and began to pack and sell, too. The government wasn't happy (neither was Sun-Maid).

The USDA saddled the Hornes with massive fines in addition to demanding payment for the raisins they had failed to surrender. Marvin Horne estimates his outstanding balance at close to a million dollars, a virtually insurmountable figure for a small, family-owned farm. The Hornes decided to fight back.

When the Hornes and a few other raisin farmers tried to challenge the USDA's seizure of their crop without payment as an unconstitutional taking of property in violation of the Fifth Amendment, the government balked and said that the issue should be heard in a Federal Claims court, as the case had nothing to do with the taking of property but instead was a matter of the Hornes violating farming regulations and being fined for doing so. Remarkably, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the USDA and declared that they had no jurisdiction in the case. Luckily for the Hornes, however, the Supreme Court took the case and ruled, in a 9-0 decision, that the 9th Circuit was mistaken and must consider the case on its constitutional merits. 

And now, after nearly a decade of fighting, the Hornes must wait a little longer. This saga may well end in 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the next few months, or the Hornes may one day soon find themselves before the Supreme Court once again. A favorable legal outcome is far from certain, but their raisins—and our property rights—depend on it.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Tracy Oppenheimer and Weissmueller. Music by Case Newsom.

About 7 minutes.

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  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    The FDR administration: the gift that keeps on giving.

  • anon||

    Just like Herpes.

  • Copernicus||

    A very cynical part of me assumes there must be some subsidies involved in this cluster fuck that somehow justifies the govmint thinking it can run the raisin business.

  • Super Hans||

    Interstate commerce, bitches.

  • Almanian!||

    Jesus H. Fuck me. Now I have a headache.

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    Brezhnev's Ghost laughs.

    Looks like the joke is on us.

  • sarcasmic||

    You didn't build that!

  • JW||

    You didn't build grow that!

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Let this be an example of how laws never go away. There are no temporary measures. Every politician who ever says that they just need it this one time is either lying or stupid.

  • ||

    Wife had a great idea for a constitutional amendment.

    ALL laws must have a sunset clause of not longer than 7 years.

    Forcing the idiots to repass every fucking law out there every 7 years.

    a. It gets rid of bad legislation.
    b. It allows the opportunity to fix the bad parts of needed legislation.
    c. It gives these assholes something to do other than coming up with NEW shit to regulate.

  • anon||

    I'm on board, but only if we make that 3 years.

  • ||

    I'll lead the charge in Canada.

    That's a good description: Force the assholes to face the unintended consequences of their actions.

  • R C Dean||

    Forcing the idiots to repass every fucking law out there every 7 years.

    Nah, they'll just gavel through an omnibus bill repassing every law on the books.

    Now, if they can't vote to pass or repass a law without reading it out loud on the floor of the House and Senate first, we might get somewhere. And no delegating; the sponsors of the law have to read it out loud personally.

  • grey||

    Can they read it allowed while being molested by Mr. T? Because I'd be on board for that. Then you know they really really really believe in the law.....or enjoy that sort of thing.

  • GroundTruth||

    I've been suggesting this for years, and being a generous fool, thought 21 years would be appropriate. BUT: They my Amendment has a catch, you can't use the same wording, nor can you combine existing statutes, nor can you delegate any authority to regulators; every bleeping word has to be debated on the House floor, and on the Senate floor.

  • kinnath||

    Government of the top men; by the top men; for the top men.

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    "Remarkably, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the USDA"

    Please...know you nothing of the Ninth Circus?

  • Duke||

    I saw that too. Everyone knows that the 9th Circuit is a freak show, except for the 9th Circuit.

    Aside from the satanically destructive agenda of the FedGov in this case, is the disparity in ability to litigate between the FedGov and the peon citizen. It costs nothing for the government to throw dozens of lawyers at this and spend millions in costs to try to enforce their rules. On the other hand, Joe Citizen can't afford to defend his rights against the juggernaut.

  • ||

    Nothing left to cut from the federal budget!

  • ||

    THIS IS WHY THE ECONOMY IS RAGING BACK TO LIFE LIKE A TEENAGE BONER!

    /Shreeek

  • ||

    Once they can estimate the size of the year's harvest, they force every farmer to surrender a percentage of their crop to raisin packers like Sun-Maid.

    This is what the geniuses running the government during the Depression came up with. Think about that. This was their "solution". They were stupider than dirt, and people are probably even more ignorant and stupid now because of shoddy education. TOP MEN indeed.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    My mother-in-law is a staunch FDR defender and goes along with the Democrat line most of the time. I love baiting her with stuff like this.

  • JW||

    So is mine, but I don't bother. She's been pimping FDR for 70 years. What could I possibly say that would change her 83 year old mind and what do I stand to gain from that?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    what do I stand to gain from that?

    That depends on the relationship between your wife and your mother-in-law.

  • JW||

    The M-i-L thinks I'm fucking awesome, a real mensch, because we don't talk politics. I plan on keeping that way.

    Seriously, I had a squad of octogenarians, at a cook-out recently, waxing about how great FDR was. Me opening my big, fat mouth on how much he sucked would have had ZERO traction. Why bother?

    Just smile and nod your head and move slowly to the bar.

  • SweatingGin||

    At one point, I realized I only talk politics with leftist friends to make them feel bad (of course it's right to intern Japanese! the solution to a food shortage is to seize it and burn it! you ratified the drone program by supporting Obama again, it was all out in the open a year before the election!)

  • R C Dean||

    Wise, JW.

    Two (well, three) words:

    Trusts and Estates.

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    Two: TRUMAN NUKES

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    Two: LBJ/JFK Vietnam

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    Four: Obama Afghanistan Libya Syria

  • Jordan||

    They conveniently leave out this sort of thing when teaching about how Saint Roosevelt saved the world in the government indoctrination centers.

  • ||

    Leave it out? I guarantee you the FDR-fluffers that teach 6th graders know next to nothing about what happened back then, especially little details like this. We've all seen their horrific ignorance.

  • anon||

    It's way easier to love someone when you don't know them.

    Which, also related, is why I think people hate their wives.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    FDR was wildly popular in his time even though his policies were inconsistent and not pinned down by any philosophical principles other than "WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING".

    Why would you expect those in the current times to delve any deeper into the history of the times besides that which the victors wrote?

  • ||

    FDR was wildly popular in his time

    And I don't get it. It was 12 years of absolute misery.

    So what, he told people their lives/economy were improving, even though they weren't, and they loved him for it? When nearly EVERY measure he took served to prolong the agony, they praised him for his good intentions?

    I wonder if this model could be used again?

  • Ron||

    Are you suggesting that Obama is following the same model. Of course the suggestion isn't really needed since Obama and the left have all talked about how he is just like FDR, they have also said he is just like JFK and Lincoln and Regan and Trayvon. I just wish we knew which president we were getting on any given day. I think we are getting Trayvon on most days.

  • Free Society||

    FDR was wildly popular in his time even though his policies were inconsistent and not pinned down by any philosophical principles other than "WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING".

    There were absolutely philosophical principles at play. Namely, the principle of arbitrary power for it's own sake. Lest you forget, FDR came out strongly in favor of Mussolini and his ideology of national power commanding economic outcomes. Corporatism and central planning were FDR's favorite pass-times.

  • Gorilla tactics||

    It's amazing we're still not culling pigs

  • theheat||

    We are, but for different reasons.

    http://www.mlive.com/news/kala.....court.html

  • ||

    Isn't this how things worked, sorta, in the Middle Ages?

  • Number 7||

    I'm wondering how this went on for 80 years without anybody bitching and...

    The tipping point came in 2003, when farmers received zero dollars in return for the 47 percent of the crop they had surrendered.

    So they were fine with the program for 70 years until they didn't get paid. It's kind of a wonder that we did go full socialist in the 30s.

  • Jordan||

    I doubt they were fine with it. I would guess that they just didn't think they could fight and win, but now they're desperate enough to try.

  • ||

    We lurched towards full socialism back then to a similar degree as other countries, it's just that our starting point was much farther away from socialism than the others, so our endpoint was farther too. The lurch was huge, though, and got us where we are today.

  • Cyto||

    The Orwellian order to pay the government for produce that was not surrendered to the government for which the farmer would be justly compensated in the princely sum of zero dollars is a priceless cherry on the shit sundae we are serving them.

  • PH2050||

    "The Orwellian order to pay the government for produce that was not surrendered to the government for which the farmer would be justly compensated in the princely sum of zero dollars is a priceless cherry on the shit sundae we are serving them."

    It's incredibly fucking depressing sometimes. Can the Leviathan ever be subdued?

  • Free Society||

    It's incredibly fucking depressing sometimes. Can the Leviathan ever be subdued?

    Once every hundred-thousand years or so, when the sun doth shine and the moon doth glow.

  • Loki||

    Quick, someone explain to me again how we have a "free market economy." That joke never gets old.

    And fuck you, FDR, I hope you're enjoying burning in hell.

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    "I hope you're enjoying burning in hell"

    I rather hope he is NOT enjoying it. Nor the rape by barbed penis wielding hellhounds.

  • Loki||

    "Enjoying" is a figurative/ sarcastic term in this case.

    And hell for FDR would probably be some sort of libertopia where he doesn't get to play at being a fascist shitbag wannabe dictator, but he still has the desire to control everyone's life and the delusions of grandeur but not the power to actually do anything. Actually that's hell for most wannabe tinpot fascist progressive assholes.

  • WTF||

    "It's not unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment because it's clearly a penaltax under the Congress taxing power."

    /JohnnyRob

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    For a magazine called Raisin...wait, never mind.

  • pan fried wylie||

    So you're saying the Raisin Admin Committee is paneled by the giant brains from futurama, if I follow correctly.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Well, that's what I heard...through the grapevine.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkbA3E363So

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    Wait a second.....it's raisin, not Raisin

  • Anonymous Coward||

    An elected board of bureaucrats known as the Raisin Administrative Committee decides what the proper yield should be in any given year in order to meet a previously decided-upon price.

    ???

    I have never, in nearly 30 years of life, seen a section on any ballot I've marked with candidates for Raisin Administrative Committee.

    Mother-fucking-FDR strikes again.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    From what I can tell, they're elected by industry members, which are dominated by a relatively small number of packers & growers. Sun-maid alone accounts for over a fifth of the members. It stinks of government enabled protectionism, with the big players in the protection racket using power granted by the government to force the small guys to play ball.

  • Brandybuck||

    They are all "voluntary" co-operatives. You don't have to join them, but if you don't you have very few options for marketing for your produce.

  • pan fried wylie||

    Does the gov't still confiscate your excess raisins if you're not a member?

  • Fatty Bolger||

    So you can ignore the board's orders if you aren't a member of one of the co-ops? Are you sure about that?

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    Holy Helium Stewardship!

  • Free Society||

    That's not a protection racket. It's called a 'cartel'.

  • Aresen||

    But how will the US will have 'Raisin Security' and a proper 'Raisin Reserve' without this program!!!

    The US will be at the mercy of rapacious raisin raisers from Raisania!

  • Bryan C||

    You won't believe this, but last month my sister made $7869.25 as an International Raisin Speculator, working from home!

  • Aresen||

    "International Raisin Speculator"

    That makes a familiar acronym.

  • pan fried wylie||

    the orginization is based in France though, so it comes out as "SIR".

    wait, no...*looks up 'raisin' in French*...oh shit, 'grape' is 'raisin', how'd I forget that....ok, so

    Speculateurs Internationale des Raisin Seche or SIRS

    True Story.

  • R C Dean||

    You should be proud, Bryan. Google shows that you are the first person on the internets to ever use the phrase "International Raisin Speculator."

  • Bryan C||

    All is proceeding as I have forseen.

  • JW||

    Aresen raisins a very good point. But, haven't we always been at war with East Raisania?

  • Brandybuck||

    I grew up in raisin country, just a few miles from the main Sun-Maid packing plant. Yes this stuff is supremely silly, but it's not limited to raisins. There is similar crap for most food crops in the US. If it was grown or raised in the 1930s, there are bundles of New Deal nuttiness governing their production and sale. As a kid I remembered seeing acres upon acres of rotting oranges because the growers were paid to destroy them.

  • pan fried wylie||

    Damn, you'd think tons of rotting produce would attract enough pests to reduce next year's harvest and prevent the whole silly exercise.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    The oranges *did* attract crop-destroying pests...federal bureaucrats.

  • pan fried wylie||

    I for one am glad that people with no clue about agriculture have any, much less the final, say about how agriculture is practiced.

    Why? Because I LIKE starving.

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    "Make Mine Milk"

    with a milk mustache.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Well, I finally got one mystery solved. Why Sun Maid raisins are cheaper here in Taiwan than in the USA. The answer to why American cigarettes are only $15.00 per carton is obvious, but people here still complain about the high taxes on smokes.

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  • Joe Wazzzz||

    Only in California would people think this is okay.

  • Solidus||

    After a short while the competition between personal greed and the desire to tell each an every American what and how much to harvest, what to eat and when to sleep, etc., comes into sharp focus. The government has no business injecting itself into personal freedoms. The government's job is to provide the collective protection of individual natural rights of person, liberty and property. At the moment the government is violently enforcing its own will based on its own greed and false philanthropy. http://coldwarwarrior.com/

  • G.E. Stieber||

    Don't want government interference, then demand all government subsidies be removed.

  • Free Society||

    Well yeah. Are you saying libertarian philosophy embraces subsidies?

  • grey||

    Where are the liberal trolls on topics like this? They vanish like a fart.

  • Free Society||

    Cases like this can't be used to justify more government power, it upsets their narrative.

  • MyC0mments877||

    How long before the FDA shows up with the Food SWAT Squad, kills their dog, tasers their kid and starts taking their raisins by force?

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