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fifth amendment

Could you feed your family if the federal government took half of your crop and did not pay you fair market value for the privilege? That question is exactly what raisin growers like Marvin Horne are preparing to ask the U.S. Supreme Court. Thanks to a Depression Era law designed as a temporary solution to a problem which could bankrupt farmers, their modern counterparts are continually being forced to turn over almost half of what they grow to federal agencies so the produce can be thrown away, redistributed to schools or sold for bargain basement prices overseas.

Raisin growers banded together and told the federal government they will no longer turn over 47 percent of their raisin crop to the USDA each year. A little-known law permits the United States Department of Agriculture to seize nearly half of raisin farmers’ crops each year to “hold in reserve,” thus manipulating the supply and market price.

The Fifth Amendment states that private property will not be taken for public use without compensation. The actions undertaken by the USDA appears to indicate that the federal agency feels it is above the laws which govern the rest of the population. The USDA maintains they did not violate raisin farmer Marvin Horne’s rights because they did not literally come onto the land and take his property. They merely enforced a farming regulation.

The 47 percent of raisin crops the growers are mandated to give up annually ultimately wind up being sold to foreign buyers at minimal costs or given to the public school system. The small amount of money that raisin farmers were eventually given by the federal government for nearly half their yield has dwindled significantly in recent years. When a lifelong Californian raisin growing couple found out that they were to get absolutely no compensation for the government mandated crop turnover, they decided to fight back in a court of law.

Horne is taking his fight to prevent the federal government from grabbing the fruits of his labor without “just compensation” all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The 1937 Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act (AMMA) is an 80-year-old federal law that allows the federal government to take almost half of the raisins harvested, and Horne feels such an act violates the Fifth Amendment rights of raisin producers.

The farming regulation was reportedly enacted to “protect” poor growers by way of controlling the supply and demand for grapes. Exactly why the government manipulation of raisin growing passed constitutional muster and has remained in effect for so long is most definitely unclear. The raisin law also states that the government can take “a percentage” of raisins from farmers without offerings payment and can feed them to animals, sell them to foreigners or toss them in the trash if they so choose. The USDA essentially has the power to do anything with the raisins as long as they are kept off the American market.

Any agriculture regulation that orders a farmer to turn over even a single plant to the government violates the spirit of the Fifth Amendment and should be revoked. Not surprisingly, many small farmers have lost their land or given up raisin growing altogether because they simply cannot pay their bills when the government takes 47 percent of their crop. Horne has been facing bankruptcy due to the unconstitutional federal intrusion into his business. The proud raisin grower owns and operates the Kerman, California-based Raisin Valley Farms.

After he opted to sell all of his raisins on the open market and not turn any over to the federal government, letters announcing hefty fines began arriving in the mail. The USDA levied about $650,000 in fines against Horne. The amount now totals more than a million dollars due to interest on the unpaid fees. In addition to the huge amount of fines, the USDA also wants 1.2 million pounds of free raisins from Horne. Since he refused to turn over 47 percent of his crop and sold them all, the federal agency feels slighted and is demanding their bounty.

During his battle to keep what he grows with his own two hands, Marvin Horne first claimed he was not subject to the law and then later maintained that the law is unconstitutional. Horne first ran afoul of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2002, when the federal agency attempted to take 47 percent of his raisin crop. He began organizing opposition to the federal raisin law and established the Raisin Valley Marketing Association, a coalition of 61 raisin growers in Fresno and Madera counties

Marvin Horne once said that the USDA raisin policy makes him feel like a serf and is a “rape of the raisin growers.”

“I didn’t choose to fight. All I choose to do is pack and market my own raisins. They’re the ones who picked the fight. USDA and the Raisin Administrative Order picked the fight, not me. The hell with the whole mess. It’s like being a serf. I believe in America and I believe in our Constitution. And I believe that eventually we will be proved right. They took our raisins and didn’t pay us for them,” the raisin farmer added.

The raisin growing law also allowed for the creation of the Raisin Administrative Committee based out of Fresno, California. The commission has the authority to set raisin prices by figuring out exactly how many of the dried grapes will reach the domestic market. The USDA controls the Raisin Administrative Committee. During a recent raisin-growing season, the federal government reportedly earned $65 million from one year’s worth of free grapes seized from American growers. The Raisin Administrative Committee is only one of many similar boards created under the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937.

As the report stated, the boards “prop up” prices for various farm and agricultural products. If a bumper crop of raisins is expected during any given season, the board could take a bigger percentage of the grower’s property to control supply and demand and create a market availability they feel is productive. If the goal of the Raisin Administrative Committee and similar boards is to help growers and farmers, they do not appear to be doing a good job.

The high percentage of raisins taken from Horne to prevent a price drop did not prevent him from suffering financially. An overabundance of raisins on the market may not have driven prices down, but the amount left to sell after the government seized its share did not leave the couple enough money to make ends meet. The 68-year-old raisin grower had to decide between getting a loan from the bank to remain solvent or selling over some acreage to cover his expenses. The fiscally responsible senior citizen did not want to accrue more debt, so he sold off some of the land he had worked so hard to purchase in 1969.

Do you think the federal government should be allowed to take any portion of what an American farmer grows by legal force and without fair market compensation?

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