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WASHINGTON —Numerous California raisin growers are seeking federal compensation for crops surrendered years ago as part of an old supply management system.

Three new court decisions could help them.

In two lawsuits that seek to become a large class-action, and a separate suit filed by a single Fresno County farm, growers seek government payments to offset what’s been deemed a government “taking” of their property. A federal judge this week kept all three lawsuits alive, rejecting Justice Department efforts to dismiss them.

“At this point, the government should just settle and write the checks,” said attorney James A. Moody, who represents the Fresno County based Lion Farms. “In my view, the case is over at this point.”

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WASHINGTON — A decades-old program for managing surplus California raisin production might be in jeopardy, following a heated Supreme Court argument Wednesday.

With a blend of skeptical questions and scornful asides, conservative justices in particular voiced doubts about the program, which can require raisin handlers to set aside a portion of the crop for a reserve. By keeping some raisins off the free market, the program is supposed to stabilize prices.

“Central planning was thought to work very well in 1937,” Justice Antonin Scalia said, “and Russia tried it for a long time.”

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito likewise grimaced at the set-aside program, which is part of the overall California raisin-marketing order.

“Could the government say to a manufacturer of cellphones, ‘You can sell cellphones. However, every fifth one you have to give to us?’ ”Alito asked. “Or a manufacturer of cars, ‘You can sell cars in the United States, but every third car you have to give to the United States?’ ”

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California had farm sales of $44.7 billion in 2012, led by $6.6 billion Fresno county, $6.2 billion in Kern county, and $6.2 billion in Tulare county.

The leading commodities were milk, worth $6.9 billion in 2012, grapes worth $4.4 billion, almonds worth $4.3 billion, greenhouse and nursery commodities worth $3.5 billion, cattle worth $3.3 billion, strawberries worth $1.9 billion, lettuce worth $1.4 billion, walnuts worth $1.3 billion, and hay and tomatoes each worth $1.2 billion.

Lettuce growers thin fields to ensure full heads of lettuce. Blue River Technology has developed a so-called Lettuce Bot that kills unwanted plants with a squirt of concentrated fertilizer.

The Fresno-based Raisin Bargaining Association, which represents 3,000 growers who produce 90 percent of US raisins, is negotiating a 2013 price with raisin processors. Growers produced 311,000 tons of raisins in 2012 and received $1,900 a ton, up from $1,700 a ton in 2010. The 2013 raisin crop is expected to be larger than in 2012, which has prompted the RBA to propose a lower grower price of $1,700 if the 2013 crop is more than 350,000 tons.

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Dissident raisin farmers from California’s San Joaquin Valley and their ideological allies will get a shot at attacking a federal farm program, under a case that the U.S. Supreme Court accepted Tuesday.

Bucking the odds, Fresno-area farmers Marvin and Laura Horne succeeded in convincing the high court to hear their challenge to federal handling of the raisin industry. Though the legal questions are complicated, the real-world stakes add up.

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