In a Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 photo, almond farmer Michael Fondse, 27, stands at his family orchards while checking for theft at Fondse Brothers Inc. in Ripon, Calif. While neighboring farms have lost nuts by the ton, he has been hit by thieves stealing off with fuel, valuable machine parts and truck batteries. His family works more than 300 acres and processes almonds. (AP Photo/Scott Smith)
ESCALON, Calif. (AP) — 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.
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 cases, while some pilfered nuts are ending up in Los Angeles for resale at farmers markets or disappear 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 taskforce recently formed to devise ways to thwart thieves.
“The Wild West is alive and well in certain aspects,” said Login to read more