Read the whole story at WaPo. Excerpts:
The national raisin reserve might sound like a fever dream of the Pillsbury Doughboy. But it is a real thing — a 64-year-old program that gives the U.S. government a heavy-handed power to interfere with the supply and demand for dried grapes.
It works like this: In a given year, the government may decide that farmers are growing more raisins than Americans will want to eat. That would cause supply to outstrip demand. Raisin prices would drop. And raisin farmers might go out of business.
To prevent that, the government does something drastic. It takes away a percentage of every farmer’s raisins. Often, without paying for them.
These seized raisins are put into a government-controlled “reserve” and kept off U.S. markets. In theory, that lowers the available supply of raisins and thereby increases the price for farmers’ raisin crops. Or, at least, the part of their crops that the government didn’t just take.
For years, Horne handed over his raisins to the reserve. Then, in 2002, he refused.
Horne’s case reached the Supreme Court this spring... last month, the high court issued its ruling and gave Horne a partial victory. A lower court had rejected Horne’s challenge of the law. Now, the justices told that court to reconsider it.
The reserve is run by the Raisin Administrative Committee, a Fresno-based organization made up of industry representatives, but overseen by the Agriculture Department. The committee is allowed to sell off some of those reserve raisins that it took for free. It can use those proceeds to pay its own expenses and to promote raisins overseas.
And if there’s any money left over, it goes back to the farmers whose raisins were taken.
The committee is not very good at having money left over.
“We generated $65,483,211. And we pretty well spent it all,” said Gary Schulz, the committee’s president and general manager, reviewing the books for one recent year. That year, the committee spent those millions on storage fees. Overseas promotions. Administrative overhead.
So what, precisely, was left for the farmers?
“Zero,” said Schulz.