Stanislaus County has yet to crack down on walnut theft

Posted by Ken Carlson on August 29, 2013 

— Many people perceive they live in a county or city where anything not bolted down is stolen. Maybe it’s not so bad.
But a growing number of farm-belt counties think they may need an ordinance to combat walnut theft. So far, Stanislaus County leaders don’t think an ordinance is needed.
Tulare County, home to the World Ag Expo, reports good success with an ordinance designed to curb this unlikely property crime. According to an article in Pacific Nut Producer, small-time thieves would fill sacks with walnuts that had been shaken from trees and then get away on bicycles. The stolen nuts were sold to buyers who operate roadside stands.
Other stealers were more ambitious. In fall 2011, the sheriff arrested five people near Visalia on charges of taking 600 pounds of walnuts; about 220 pounds were recovered from a suspect’s vehicle.
The losses were great enough that Tulare adopted an ordinance that requires proof of ownership documents before walnuts are sold. It enables county authorities to ask roadside buyers for proof of ownership even for small amounts of walnuts. State regulations require documentation for more than 25 pounds of any commodity.
Since the ordinance was adopted, a lot fewer cases of walnut theft are reported in Tulare County, the article says.
Butte County has passed an ordinance to protect nut growers and Glenn County may follow suit. Two local attorneys and growers, J. Wilmar Jensen and Mark Jensen, recently sent the article on Tulare County to the Stanislaus Board of Supervisors to keep the conversation going here.
In May, the Stanislaus County Ag Commissioner’s Office reported the results of a survey mailed to 469 walnut growers. About 45 percent responded to the questions. Of those, 42 percent said walnut theft had occurred on their property and the same percentage said they knew neighbors who had been hit.
Growers were divided on whether the problem was bad enough to justify an ordinance. Forty-two percent thought it was needed, while 53 percent didn’t think so and 5 percent were undecided.
The county’s agricultural advisory board asked for guidance from county supervisors, who replied in July they weren’t ready to put more regulations in place. As the walnut harvest gets under way this fall, county officials can do some checking to ensure buyers and sellers are complying with state rules.
“It could be evaluated this harvest season. There’s always the potential of going forward in the future,” said Dan Bernaciak, assistant agricultural commissioner.
[OTHERS]Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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