Back in 2013, I wrote about a raisin farmer fighting the federal government’s “Raisin Administration Committee”: a Truman-era program that has the power to allot a portion of every year’s raisin crop into a government-controlled reserve, where it’s kept off the market. When farmer Marvin Horne decided to take on the committee, the battle went all the way to the Supreme Court—where last Monday, the court ruled in Horne’s favor:
The Hornes went to court to challenge the whole raisin reserve program, contending that it amounted to an unconstitutional taking of their property without just compensation. … The government argued that it wasn’t taking the Hornes’ property because they were free to sell their grapes for other purposes, like wine, instead of raisins.
The Supreme Court rejected those arguments, however, by an 8-to-1 vote, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor the sole dissenter. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said the government’s “let them eat wine” argument is “probably not much more comforting to the raisin growers than similar retorts have been to others throughout history.”
… Raisin producer Horne was elated by the court’s decision. “It’s just an affirmation in our Constitution and the American way of life,” he said.
Modern Farmer wonders whether the court’s decision will dismantle the raisin industry Marketing Order. But George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin notes, “… All it means is that the government will have to pay compensation for the fair market value of any of the raisins that are taken this way. I’m not sure if going forward the Department of Agriculture has authorization from Congress to pay compensation in these cases and if they don’t have that authorization, then in order to keep this program functioning, they might need Congress to pass a new law, which … doesn’t seem tremendously likely.”
In other agricultural news, Washington’s corn lobbyists have declared war on sugar lobbyists:
The Corn Refiners, representing companies that produce high-fructose corn syrup, just hired 10 outside lobbyists for an aggressive, unorthodox attack on the federal sugar program just a year after a new farm bill was signed into law. Their first target is the agriculture appropriations bill, now moving through a House committee.
… The sugar program, which has existed in various forms since the 1930s, uses an elaborate system of import quotas, price floors and taxpayer-backed loans to prop up domestic growers, which number fewer than 4,500. … “While every other farm support program has received multiple rounds of reforms, big sugar has not been touched,” said John Bode, CEO of the Corn Refiners group.
… Bode, a former assistant secretary of agriculture during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush presidencies, was outspoken in an unusual way for a Washington agribusiness insider. “This is pure crony capitalism,” he said. “Sugar is a mere footnote in American agriculture production, but they make more political contributions than the rest of agriculture combined. That’s why they have defeated all attempts at reform since 1980.”
Of course, the irony here is that America’s gigantic corn industry benefits from a mammoth amount of subsidies, as well—to the extent that it’s called “King Corn” in a recent documentary about the industry’s crony practices. Michael Pollan dedicated an entire section of his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma to describe corn’s infiltration of the food industry. As James Davis, from the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, told the Post: “We’re not real interested in climbing in bed with the corn lobby to accuse the sugar industry of being prostitutes. We oppose all forms of corporate welfare.”