Contemplate the idea: A federal program that sets prices high enough to ensure that oranges would be grown near all of the country's population centers.

Crazy, you say, that public policymakers would countenance such a program for oranges, let alone any other agricultural product?

Well, Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.) proposed yesterday that the Senate Agriculture Committee adopt an Orange Equity and Consumer Protection Act of 1985 as part of a new farm bill it is working on.

"Citrus fruit is a wholesome part of the diet, not unlike milk," Boschwitz told the committee. "My bill would set up marketing orders, not unlike those used for dairy products, to guarantee that all population centers have a continuous, fresh supply of locally grown oranges."

The committee cracked up with laughter, but Boschwitz's point was made.

Just moments before, he had been steamrollered by the committee after he proposed changes in the milk marketing order system that helps set prices and requires that fluid milk be produced near the market where it is used.

The changes sought by Boschwitz would have benefited dairy farmers back home in Minnesota and the upper Midwest who are prevented by the marketing orders from selling their fluid milk outside their region.

"In the beginning, advantages were given to certain areas to encourage local production. But I am now suggesting that the period for these differentials is no longer justifiable," he said.

Boschwitz lost that one, 14 to 2, whereupon he peeled out his orange bill.

"Since the committee is so enamored of marketing orders, we want some marketing orders to establish a national policy of producing oranges around population centers," he said. "Fresh milk and fresh juice in the morning, that's what I'm advocating. I guess it works in dairy, so let's do it in citrus," he said.

Point made, Boschwitz then withdrew his amendment.

The senator, by the way, although a sufferer of lactose intolerance, takes milk in his coffee and drinks his orange juice straight.