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California nut farmers ban together to fight theft

ESCALON, Calif. (AP) -- The soaring value of California's nut crops is attracting a new breed of thieves, who have been making off with the pricey commodities by the truckload, recalling images of cattle rustlers of bygone days.

In one case from this harvest season in the Central Valley, thieves cut through a fence and hauled off $400,000 in walnuts.

Investigators suspect low-level organized crime, while some pilfered nuts are ending up in Los Angeles for resale at farmers markets or disappear into the black market.

Such heists have become so common that an industry task force has devised ways to thwart thieves. Domestic demand for specialty foods and the expanding Asian market for them have prompted a nut orchard boom in the state's agricultural heartland, which is a worldwide leader.

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