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A wood chipper drives over a row of trimmings recently pruned from walnut trees last year at Norene Ranches in Sutter County.

 

As one of the highest grossing commodities in Yuba and Sutter counties, walnuts are a big deal in the area. But so is walnut theft, so ordinances were enacted years ago to protect the crop. 

“The walnut industry has been vulnerable to theft due to the manner in which the nuts are harvested,” said Yuba County Agricultural Commissioner Stephen Scheer. “Typically the walnuts are shaken from the trees and left in windrows until they are collected by harvesting equipment. Unfortunately, some people steal them from orchards and sell the walnuts illegally. The Walnut Theft Ordinance is intended to deter such activities.”

Lisa Herbert, Sutter County agricultural commissioner, said the price of walnuts reached record highs in 2014 and, with the price so high, many wanted in on the profits -- including thieves.

“Many pop-up walnut buyers became the norm and thieves would steal the walnuts off the ground in the orchards in plain daylight and sell to these ‘buyers’,” said Herbert. 

To deter such illegal activities and gain some control to protect walnut growers and the industry, many counties started enacting nut theft ordinances around this time. 

The Yuba County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted their Walnut Theft Ordinance on Sept. 22, 2014. The Sutter County Board of Supervisors followed soon after, adopting the Sutter County Walnut Theft Prevention Ordinance on Aug. 5, 2014.

Other area counties that have active nut ordinances include Butte, Tehama and Glenn counties, as well as several counties to the south.

“In addition to establishing the buying period, the ordinance also establishes requirements regarding the transportation and identification of walnuts as well as requiring ‘proof of ownership’ documentation for possessors and buyers of walnuts,” said Scheer.

Herbert said towards the end of each harvest season, she and other ag commissioners from Butte, Yuba, Tehama and Glenn counties will work with local growers to determine when the official conclusion of harvest of the Chandler variety of walnuts will be, usually sometime around Nov. 1. This variety is typically the last variety of the season to harvest, said Herbert. 

Once there is a collective agreement, the start date of the walnut buying period is established, said Herbert, allowing for independent walnut buyers to purchase walnuts usually grown for purposes other than commercial.

“Walnuts transported directly by a grower from the farm or ranch where they are grown to a commercial processing or packing plant are exempt from this ordinance,” said Herbert.

Prior to the declaration of the walnut buying period, only approved nut processing facilities are permitted to buy walnuts and roadside stands advertising “cash for walnuts” or similar language are prohibited outside of the buying period. 

According to Herbert, theft has not been as prevalent the past couple of years as walnut prices have declined greatly since the historic 2014 year.

 

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