A rash of almond and walnut thefts in California this year gives a whole new meaning to the term “health nut.”
The popularity of some nuts, including almonds and walnuts, has drawn the attention of criminals eager to cash in on the current demand for the kernels, which has skyrocketed since they've been allowed to carry a qualified health claim approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Similarly, they're used as a critical ingredient in many healthful snacks.
“Almonds have always been a popular product, but it's a matter of where the market prices drive the demand. For many criminals, it's the pricing and the opportunity that really make a particular commodity or product attractive,” said Bill Yoshimoto, project director of Action Project, a rural anti-crime task force in Visalia, Calif.
So far this year, almond growers in the state have fallen victim to four major almond thefts, including the recent disappearance of a large truck carrying 88,000 pounds of nuts, which have a street value of about $260,000. Two truckloads of stolen walnuts were worth about $150,000.
Currently, farmers receive an average of $2.21 a pound for almonds, almost double what they earned back in 1991, according to the USDA. And while there is a 15% increase in the almond harvest this year — the forecast for this fall's crop is 1.05 billion pounds — the nut's steady demand continues to keep prices high, and criminals on the lookout for an easy mark.