Independent Raisin Farmers Attack Aged Marketing System

Independent Raisin Farmers Attack Aged Marketing System

California’s Independent Raisin Producers are in a pitch battle with the 56-year old “Raisin Advisory Committee” and rules they see as antiquated, and anti-competitive. The producers represented by David Domina and Michael Stumo, Domina Law pc , challenge a regulatory scheme promulgated by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, under the terms of a Marketing Order for raisins. The Order was first enacted in 1949.

Farmers contend that the “Raisin Advisory Committee,” an organization elected by raisin producers to give the USDA input on raisin matters has “adopted an unlawful procedure to regulate the market. Producers claim the RAC and USDA’s system requiring producers who do not process their own raisins, but sell them through a handler to comply with “reserve” requirements that take as much as 45% of a producer’s crop off the market, and deprive the producer of control of the crop, or the opportunity to market it, constitutes and unlawful taking. They also contend the procedures unlawfully delegate control, improperly discriminate between classes of producers based on what they do after raisins are grown, and not raisin quality, and arbitrarily set marketing procedures that help only the largest producers, while harming small independent ones.

A USDA Administrative Law Proceeding against Marvin Horne, Kermin, California, and Raisin Valley Farms, frames the issue. The USDA contends laws and regulations were violated because Horne does “custom processing” by leasing his equipment and personnel to producers who process their raisins and then take them back to their own farms for sale at another time on their terms.

For more than one year, Horne was assisted by neighbors, friends and California attorneys as the case progressed. But, when it was clear trial was necessary, he looked for help.

“I learned of Dave Domina and Domina Law pc from an area attorney who told me of his case against the meat packers. It became clear that Domina really cares about the independent producer and fair markets. I want someone who shares my belief that market fairness for independent producers is a cornerstone of our heritage,” Horne said.

Domina and Stumo believe the raisin industry needs market reform, and they believe the current regulatory scheme is vulnerable. “It is clear that independent producers face a different set of rules than the big guys,” Domina said. He continued, “If only independent producers are required to meet reserve requirements, they can never compete against others, and they cannot export of benefit from export market development.”

Domina and Horne noted that RAC and USDA literature describe the regulatory processes purpose as one that has changed over the years from price support and promotion to demand creation. Domina said, “The law hasn’t changed, but the RAC have obviously now set about to completely transform its purpose. I don’t know how it can expect to redefine its mission when the laws and regulations governing it demand consistency, not a reversal of objectives.”

Raisin Valley Farm’s case has touched off much controversy in America’s 300,000 ton, $300 million raising industry. Producers aligned with Giant Sun Maid oppose the Horne-led faction of independent producers. But Horne dismisses this saying, “Sun Maid has a sweetheart deal, and wants to protect it. It doesn’t care that it’s sacrificing the independent producers to have its way.”

The case, expected to last 2 weeks, will be tried to USDA Administrative Law Judge Victor Palmer. Both sides expect the ALJ’s decision, and the record at trial, will proceed to forward to appellate levels of judicial involvement.

February 16, 2005
David A. Domina

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