Theft rings take crack at high-priced California nut crops
By The Associated Press
Published: Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, 9:30 p.m.
ESCALON, Calif. — The soaring value of California's nut crops is attracting a new breed of thieves who have been making off with the pricey commodities by the truckload, recalling images of cattle rustlers of bygone days.
In this harvest season in the Central Valley, thieves cut through a fence and hauled off $400,000 in walnuts. An additional $100,000 in almonds was stolen by a driver with a fake license. And $100,000 in pistachios was taken by a big rig driver who left a farm without filling out any paperwork.
Investigators suspect low-level organized crime may have a hand in the cases, while some pilfered nuts are ending up in Los Angeles for resale at farmers markets or disappearing into the black market.
Domestic demand for specialty foods and an expanding Asian market for them have prompted a nut orchard boom in the state's agricultural heartland. Such heists have become so common that an industry task force recently formed to devise ways to thwart thieves.
“The Wild West is alive and well in certain aspects,” said Danielle Oliver of the California Farm Bureau. “There's always someone out there trying to make a quick dollar on somebody else's hard work.”
Amid the nut boom, farmers have torn out vineyards and other crops to plant nut trees to keep up with demand. Real estate firms, retirement funds and insurance companies have taken note by adding almonds, walnut and pistachio land to diversify their portfolios.
As the nation's top nut producer, the state grows more almonds and pistachios than any other country. Only China produces more walnuts, which have nearly tripled in price in the past five years to about $2 a pound, according to the California Walnut Board.
The Department of Agriculture reported that through 2012 the state's almond crop was valued at $5 billion per year, pistachios were over $1 billion and walnuts were over $1.5 billion.
“Right now, everybody wants to be a nut grower because it's kind of like the gold rush of the 1850s,” said Ripon almond farmer Kevin Fondse of Fondse Brothers Inc. “Everybody wants the gold.”
That frenzy has spawned crime. In a brazen heist in October, thieves made off with 140,000 pounds of processed walnuts from GoldRiver Orchards. The thief cut through wooden fence posts in the dead of night, hooked up a truck to three gondola trailers brimming with nuts and drove off.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- California man named as bitcoin creator denies involvement
- El Nino could bring relief to U.S.
- Shuster plans oversight for DUI program
- Crisis stymies Obama getaway
- Health marketplace targets not signing up, survey shows
- Former National Security Agency contractor Snowden’s leaks to cost billions, take years to fix
- Holocaust survivor sues Germany in looted art claim
- Senator wants fast action on rail safety
- Sex-crimes prosecutor accused in groping
- Lawmakers vote to bar ‘upskirt’ photos in Massachusetts
- Ads tell Colo. pot users to keep off roads