July 13, 2014

Walnut theft gets Stanislaus supervisors' attention

A proposed ordinance aimed at walnut theft from newly harvest orchards will go before the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

A proposed ordinance on walnut theft, which has increased with the prices paid for the crop, will go before the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday evening.

The measure would require sellers of small amounts of walnuts to provide documentation, which already is done with larger operations.

Industry leaders say walnuts are prone to theft after they are shaken from the trees and lie on the ground awaiting pickup. They are worth about 6 cents apiece at that stage and can be easily loaded into sacks and pickup trucks.

“The theft of walnuts from orchards has been an ongoing concern, and the current high price being offered for walnuts heightens the fear that walnut theft will increase during the upcoming season,” said a memo to the board from the county agricultural commissioner’s office.

The ordinance would apply to sellers of up to 2,000 pounds of walnuts per year, shells included, which is what 25 to 30 trees can produce. They would need certificates with their name and address, the source and weight of the nuts, and other information.

The documentation would be more detailed than what the state already requires of anyone selling 25 or more pounds of a farm product. Violators could be fined up to $500 for a first offense and up to $1,000 for a repeat.

The ordinance would apply to sales by gleaners – people who have the grower’s permission to gather nuts that remain in the orchard after the main harvest.

A county survey found that 46 percent of walnut growers have seen evidence of theft. The ordinance was drafted with the help of growers and processors, law enforcement and the Stanislaus County Agricultural Advisory Board.

Stanislaus is third among California counties in walnut production, with an estimated $213.6 million in gross income to growers in 2012. San Joaquin County is first, Butte second.

The industry has boomed thanks to a positive health message, much like almonds, which are not as vulnerable to theft. Similar laws on walnuts have been adopted in Tehama, Butte, Glenn, Kings and Tulare counties.

The effort is separate from the steps the industry has taken against large-scale theft of processed walnuts from plants.

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