Friday, July 19, 2013
Feds vs. Raisins: Small Farmers Stand Up to the USDA
"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 like Sun-Maid. 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."