Thieves steal $400,000 worth of California walnuts

Never mind jewels and priceless works of art. Thieves are going after one of California’s largest cash crops: walnuts.

In one of the biggest heists to hit the booming industry, bandits made off with 140,000 pounds of walnuts worth $400,000 Sunday in Escalon, a city just north of Modesto.

“It was just brazen,” said Bruce Blodgett, executive director of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation. “They took a massive amount -- several truck loads. We need to find these folks.”

The nuts were taken from GoldenRiver Orchards, a grower and processor established in 1912. The company declined to comment.

Last month, 12,000 pounds of walnuts worth $50,000 were stolen from a trailer parked on California 99 in Sutter County, north of Sacramento.

“They just opened up the bottom, and picked the walnuts up with buckets, and then brought trailers and vans, and that’s how they took the walnuts,” said grower Jaswant Bains, according to CBS13 Sacramento.

Farmers are earning about $2 a pound for walnuts today, up from about $1.85 last year and 60 cents just a few years ago.

The crop is California’s fourth leading agricultural export, thanks to emerging markets such as China. At the same time, the state supplies almost all the walnuts consumed in the United States today. 

China remains the world’s leading producer of walnuts, but the United States is a close second,  according to Rabobank.

Agricultural theft is a major problem in California’s farm counties -- not the least because the state grows so many valuable crops. Targets include avocados and cattle.


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