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home : people : opinions November 25, 2015

9/11/2013 10:49:00 PM
Casual, Cursory, Candid, Cobbled Comments
By Cecil Acuff

The Preservation of Raisins on Occasions has been the object of Persuasion of this Nation.

In June, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on an obscure case, Horne vs. United States Department of Agriculture, brought by a raisin farmer who claimed the Federal Government illegally confiscated his private property by requiring him to pay into a national reserve.

The case attracted little media attention, because the Justices voted unanimously to send it back to a lower court for further review. And, the media was more interested in Gay-Rights and Voter-Rights.

The existence of a government-operated dried fruit hoard may surprise many Americans. Where are the billions stored, and are they still a healthy food to eat?

There are now 22 crops with marketing orders: including avocados, peaches, kiwis, dates, prunes, raisins, walnuts, almonds, tomatoes, and olives. The allowable crop levels are set by Industry-led bodies as The Raisin Administration of California, The Almond Administration Board of California, and other such entities. All of these boards are overseen by the Untied States Department of Agriculture, which serves as a policeman. They don't make decisions as much as making certain everyone abides by the rules.

Mechel Paggi, Director of Agri-Business at California State University, says there is no United States Uncle Scrooge's National Repository for Raisins. The government doesn't maintain a central stash. Instead, they're stored in smaller amounts at packaging plants.

The government doesn't warehouse perishable foods. It would senseless to hoard million of peaches if they're going to quickly rot. So, market orders for those crop's control are supplied in other ways.

The most common method is to place stricter quality controls on the products; saying the food product must be a certain size, shape, weight, or ripeness to be sold. This causes farmers to keep a larger portions of their harvests.

Since raisins and nuts keep a long time, when a limit is declared, farmers who exceed the limit must stockpile anything over the average, and set it aside at a packaging plant. Up to 47% of the annual raisin yield has been reserved this way.

Once sidelined, these raisins cannot be sold until the government say so. If a committee decides to release any or all, an auction is held. Some un-auctioned food is given to charity or government food programs.

All farmers are required to surrender their excess crops. For the past eleven years farmer Marvin Horne has refused to play by The Raisin Administration Committee's rules. He now owes the government $650,000 in fines, and 1.2 million raisins. So, in 2008, he sued Uncle Sam. Who and how will 1.2 million sun-dried shriveled grapes be counted? That'll help unemployment, wont't it?

Economists differ on whether Horne is right. There's good evidence that raisin farmers as a whole came out ahead from a reserve policy, to the disadvatage of consumers and taxpayers. If farmers aren't selling 10% of their crop, but getting a higher price for 90%, which is better? When no one knows the price ahead of time, that question can't be answered.

Specialists say that over time, crop reserves will have a negligible effect on prices. That may be why most crop committees have suspended or eliminated limits in recent years. Almond reserves haven't been required since 1994. The order on nectarines was terminated in 2011.

Even the hidebound protectors of sun-dried grapes are coming around. The Raisin Committee hasn't instituted a reserve in the last three years, and may not have one next year. Gary Shultz, President of The Raisin Administrative Committee, says, "This is the first time since 1949 that we've gone this long without one." Global supply and demand has been very much in balance.

Isn't it interesting that a little ole sun-dried grape can command so much attention? In the nursery rhyme, "Jack Spat could eat no fat; His wife, Joan, could eat no lean. So, betwixt the two of them, They licked the platter clean." "Jack ate all the lean, Joan ate all the fat. The bone, they picked it clean, They gave it to the cat." Did cats in Merry Old England really eat bones?

Americans consume too much sugar already. So, to all the Jacks's and Joans's of the Nation, go slow on those sweet, sweet Raisins on all Occasions!

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