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Spiking Walnut Prices Attract More Thieves Looking For Payday In Sutter County

SUTTER COUNTY (CBS13) — Walnut thieves are at it again in Sutter County, targeting a crop that has tripled in value over the past decade.

It took about five years for Jaswant Bains' trees to start producing walnuts. It only took a few minutes for them to disappear.

"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," Bains said.

That's how about 20,000 pounds of walnuts, valued at $50,000, disappeared in the middle of the night.

"Unfortunately, we left the truck in the field, and we didn't pull it up to a safe area," the farmer lamented.

Farmers like Bains tell CBS13 that a combination of fewer walnut trees and a higher demand from the Asian market has sent prices surging in the last 10 years.

That makes Bains' crop a lucrative target for would-be thieves.

He's hired a night watchman at his processing plant that's just a few miles away. If thieves got in there, it would be a much bigger risk to his livelihood.

"When it's totally full, it's probably around $600,000-$700,000," Bains said.

He's planning on installing cameras, and he has a secret location where he stores walnuts ready to ship.

But with those rising prices, the Sutter County Sheriff's Department says thieves have to steal fewer walnuts to make more money.

"One of the biggest problems we are having right now is basically the pilferers," said Capt. Lewis McElfresh. "They come by and load up a couple of bags or buckets.

With that small of a take, it's almost impossible to find the culprits.

"We really have to catch them in the act of stealing, or gather info and hopefully get a confession," he said.

The department also relies on tips being called in from the public.

Sutter County is considering an ordinance similar to one passed in Butte County requiring paperwork to sell walnuts on the side of the road.

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