Tulare County cracks down on walnut thieves


The owner and grower at a walnut orchard just west of Porterville, was getting ready for his second harvest, when his neighbor noticed intruders.

Sgt. Chris Douglass said, "It was 10 o'clock in the morning and the farmer did not give anyone authorization to remove walnuts from his property."

The farmer drove by his 40-acre farm and saw eight people loading up 700 pounds of walnuts into three separate cars. That's when he called 9-1-1. Tulare County sheriff's deputies arrested the suspects for grand theft.

Sgt. Chris Douglass added, "Last year we had over 25 cases where walnut theft was the portion of the case so it is something we see during harvest season."

And walnut theft is a growing problem in Tulare County.

To get a handle on walnut theft, county Ag crimes deputies partnered with the county Ag commissioner's office and the farm bureau to come up with a new set of rules walnuts sellers.

The old county ordinance required proof of ownership for anyone carrying more than 25 pounds of walnuts. But a new amendment now says a buyer or seller with any amount of walnuts must have proof of ownership. This new rule is more restrictive than state law.

Marilyn Kinoshita said, "Walnut prices are pretty high and so it is a valuable crop to anybody."

Tulare County Ag Commissioner Marilyn Kinoshita says they also created a specific "buying period" for when people are allowed to sell walnuts. She says most thieves take the walnuts after the trees have been "shaken" and the walnuts are on the ground.

"People think, oh these are large corporate growers and they're not going to miss it," Kinoshita said. "Well they do miss it and that's how these growers, some just have a few acres of walnuts and that's how they make their livelihood."

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