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.

The government allows them to sell one out of every two raisins.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 andYeah, those raisins are gonna cost you. 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.


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  • mallie

    That is by far the most outrageous and egregious scenario I’ve ever read about. Why should our citizens be denied a marketable price on raisins only to have them shipped overseas and sold for discounted prices, never mind the extortion the feds visit upon farmers. Since when are we not entitled to the fruits of our labors. That is pure and outright involuntary servitude: slavery for the feds. Someone is enriching themselves at the expense of our farmers and citizens. How on earth did this outrageous policy even get started. Free the farmers, free the market and put big government back into the rock it crawled out from under.

  • texaschris

    At what point is it considered self defense to have 24 hour armed guards protecting your raisins from federal looters? I’m sure it would cost less than losing 47% of your crop…

    • Ron Roy

      I would find any farmer who defended his property against these federal thugs NOT GUILTY!

      • texaschris

        Behold! The power of the jury box!

    • TrevorLyman


  • mdak06

    We really need to abolish the USDA (and the FDA, and DEA, and numerous other idiotic federal agencies). They do far, far, FAR more harm than good.

  • glock 19 fan

    And the Raisin Administrative Committee is ELECTED? What do the voters use for brains?

    • tionico

      elected by whom, and how often? How does one qualify and run for office? Take this agency over and end this nonsense.

  • Liberty

    The USDA, and most of the other 426 federal agencies, are illegitimate (unconstitutional). Fighting the USDA actions, rather than its legitimacy, won’t accomplish much.

  • tionico

    There is a word that describes the condition wherein government controls private means of production: it is called fascism. Folks, we are there… and MUST turn it back round right. This family are in the right, and their fight affects us all. This is government no longer OF, BY, or FOR, the people. WE are the sovereign.

    This also tells me I need to stop buying ANY SUnmaid products… as they are getting fat off the labours of theor brother farmers, and standing against those brother farmers and for the government… at whose hands SunMaid prosper. A return to a truly free market is necessary, the sooner the better for all of us.

  • tionico

    The USDA are dead wrong…. raisins ARE property, and the seizure of raisins without warrant or due process IS a violation of the Fifth Ammendment, specifically enacted to prevent this very sort of activity on the part of government. Three types of property exist: intellectual (not in view here), real (dirt/land, and whatever is attached to it, to include structures, wells, trees, fences), and personal (the fruit of one’s labour, any thing that can be owned, bought, sold.. and raisins harvested and processed and packaged most definitely fall into this category. The Fifth Ammendment makes no distinction between real and personal property, it only addresses “things”. Tangible items. Raisins, and the land upon which they are grown, are tangible. The Ninth had it wrong first time round. Will they get it right on round Two?

  • Dr Moon

    This is just another sliver of our Freedom taken away by the Government. We can’t depend on the courts because they are another part of the government. The only people we can depend on are ourselves. We must start fighting back against this unconstitutional, illegal government. We must use civil disobedience to force change in the government. All raisin farmers should refuse to give up their crop to the Feds. When they are fined, refuse to pay the fine. The people who live in these communities must all work together to fight this bull crap. Pool our money to hire good attorneys and some good lobbyist. At the same time, put massive pressure on the local and State government to join the fight against Washington, to save the family farms. Citizens can patrol their property to prevent any government agent from coming onto their land without a warrant. If they try to arrest farmers, then all other Citizens can help hide them from the law, protect them with armed guards. One way to undermine the system would be to not plant one single grape vine, or burn the crops in the field 100% all of the raisin crops on family farms do this in the same year. All of the communities and people across the Nation would donate money to give to these farming families to help them survive a year without income. If there are no crops the government won’t have any product to give to Sunkist or give to foreign nations. This would really hack them off and there’s nothing they could do about it. The farmers could even plant a substitute crop to help bring in some income. Plus they could all file for a 100% loss for the year. If we are real lucky the lack of product would cause some of the big raisin sellers to lose money. If the government refuses to change the stupid rules then threaten them with a repeat of a cropless year. It’s time to start taking drastic action to make government change instead of them making us change. If we all stick together and pool our resources we can win, but we must get started soon or it will be too late. Lets make a plan and enact it now!!