Farmer Filburn’s Wheat

As an addendum to Randy’s post on Wickard v. Filburn, I wanted to point out some additional facts about the case, and farmer Roscoe Filburn’s activity in particular. It is commonly asserted that farmer Filburn was barred from growing extra wheat for consumption by his family. This is simply false.

The Agricultural Adjustment Act expressly applied to the growing of wheat for the purpose of feeding livestock, and this is what farmer Filburn was doing. Filburn grew the extra wheat for the primary purpose of feeding his dairy cows. For Filburn, the excess wheat was a factor input of production in a broader commercial enterprise, and that is why he went over his allotment.

Filburn grew 11.9 acres of excess wheat — more than double his quota.  The extra acreage generated 239 bushels.  How much is that? As Jim Chen points out in his informative essay on the case (included as a chapter in Constitutional Law Stories): “To consume 239 excess bushels, the Filburn family would have had to consume nearly forty-four one-pound loaves of bread each day for a year.”  Filburn’s livestock may have been able to consume this much wheat, but his family sure couldn’t.

Whether or not Wickard can or should be read as authority for the proposition that Congress could prohibit a farmer from growing wheat for (in Judge Silberman’s words) “the purpose of baking bread for his own family and only for his own family,” this is not an accurate characterization of what farmer Filburn had done to violate the AAA.