South valley walnut losses mount

FRESNO, Calif.

Growers say recent storms knocked many walnuts to the ground and thieves seemed to be waiting and ready to scoop them up.

Kings County growers are confident this will be the largest walnut crop they've ever seen. Walnuts have been washed, hulled and dried and are ready to be shipped.

But some walnuts never make it to facilities like the Warmerdam dehydrator because thieves are swiping them from orchards and selling them at roadside stands.

It's problem grower Doug Verboon has always dealt with. Verboon explained, "They can take several hundred dollars worth of walnuts within a few minutes and get cash for them. There's no way to trace it."

Members of the Kings County Sheriff's Department Ag Task Force make note of when the walnut harvest begins. But it's difficult to catch the thieves who sometimes operate at night.

Detective Clay Crippen said, "We have a had some instances where they pulled into where they harvested and they have a truckload. We had one guy reported about a thousand pounds stolen out of the back of a trailer."

At a dollar-ten per pound the losses add up quickly. Verboon said walnut growers often ask people to pick up or "glean" leftover walnuts after harvest. It's important for worm control.

Verboon said, "If they can get a few dollars out of it that's fine. You're gonna have to get rid of them no matter what. You're going to have to mow them or shred them or disc them under so you might as well someone make a few dollars on them but you have to wait until we're done with harvest."

The problem is some people are just helping themselves to walnuts yet to be harvested.

Crippen said, "People just, instead of stopping and asking if the farmer if it's alright they assume they got theirs already now I'm gonna get mine and you have a lot of people out of work trying so they're trying to support their own families by picking walnuts."

Crippen said walnut theft is a felony crime if more than a hundred dollars worth of nuts are stolen.

Doug Verboon is also a Supervisor-elect in Kings County. He said he tries to harvest his walnuts the same day they're shaken off the trees to keep any losses to a minimum.

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