Ag Crimes Have Farmers On Alert - KMPH FOX 26 | Central San Joaquin Valley News Source

Ag Crimes Have Farmers On Alert

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FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KMPH) -

The nut industry is one of the top sellers in the Central Valley, but many local farmers are being forced to keep a close watch on their crops this year.

As Will Carr from KMPH Fox 26 news partner Fox News shows us, that's because more thieves are using force to steal nuts.

California's nut industry is booming, bringing in more than $8 billion in revenue last year alone, but as prices and demand have soared, criminals are taking notice.

Tricia Stever Blattler with the Tulare County Farm Bureau said, "We really have seen a lot more brazen thievery in the area in recent years, we've had field workers and employees that have just been accosted in the middle of the day with armed assailants."

Some farmers have even had their lives threatened. "My best friend had a shotgun pulled on him while he went to confront some people," said Barrett Blain of Blain Farms.

Others risk losing their family's livelihoods. "It's generally the small family farmer that's hit the hardest," said Blain.

Tricia Blattler said, "That may be their entire crop. A couple nights of theft could actually wipe them out entirely."

And it's not just a handful of nuts here and there. Last year in the Central Valley, thieves drove off with over a half million dollars in almonds, walnuts and pistachios.

Tricia Blattler said, "They may have a flatbed trailer waiting down the road and may actually steal that tractor out from under that employee, load it up down the road and disappear into the night."

Part of the problem is that farms can be easy targets because their large groves are tough to secure.

That's why a newly formed task force is increasing awareness, posting signs and asking farmers and sellers to report anything suspicious.

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said, "Our job is to advise local farmers how to, what we call, ‘harden the target.' How to prevent thefts from happening in the first place, and that means checking credentials, make sure you don't leave the keys in your vehicles."

Some farmers say they've added lights and cameras to their properties - while others tell us they're carrying guns for their own protection.

Also some counties have started restricting buying or selling nuts with cash and say it's significantly cutting down on some of this crime.

The state of California grows more almonds and pistachios than any other place in the world.

Thank you to Fox News for contributing to this story.

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