After a season of record-high prices, pecan farmers in Georgia are trying to protect their crops from looters intent on swiping the pricey nuts.
The spike in pecan prices was due, in part, to shortages in states such as Oklahoma and Texas. While the rise in pecan prices has meant bigger profits for Georgia farmers, it has also led to an increase in pecan thefts.
Lawrence Wright, the deputy chief major at the Fort Valley Police Department, says pecan thefts happen every year, but this year there’s been a marked rise in complaints and arrests, as prices per pound went up to more than $3 for raw uncleaned pecans and up to $11 for shelled pecans available at grocery stores.
“I really just feel it’s a crime of opportunity,” said Wright. “The price peaks [and] it’s supply and demand. It’s really just economics.”
Duke Lane, the president of the Georgia Pecan Growers Association, says that the size and layout of orchards in Georgia make it difficult for growers to protect their land from looters.
“Everyone has an orchard here,” said Lane. “It’s very enticing for somebody to just pull out off the road and go out with a bucket or sack and pick up as many as you can.”
In addition to people trespassing on farms, Lane said he has heard of people breaking into warehouses and even attempting to hitch a wagon of pecans to their truck.
Janice Craft, of Scott & Janice Craft Pecan Farms, says that for farmers who work year round the pecan thefts are “devastating.” To combat the theft, Craft and her husband have their own method of a neighborhood watch.
“Well we’ve got ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted. We’ve got big dogs,” said Craft, of her security measures. “We’ve got some shotguns. I think that’s pretty good surveillance.”
Lane says that other growers are turning to more formal security measures including a group of 10 orchards that joined together and hired a security patrol that traverses thousands of acres of farmland.
In addition, local police is offering security details to orchards when possible.
“We will be as proactive as possible,” said Wright, who says the police will meet with farmers throughout the season.
As the picking season comes to a close, Lane says he and other members of the Georgia Pecan Growers Association are looking into more permanent protections including hiring patrols, using more signs, and even lobbying local politicians to increase penalties for trespassing to steal pecans.
“You won’t completely stop it,” said Lane. “[But] the people won’t be losing as much as we are losing now.”
Lane hopes that changes will occur as soon as possible, or at least by the next holiday season. During the start of last Thanksgiving, Lane says he spent the day in the orchard tracking down looters who had brought in a bathtub to gather nuts.
“[He] said he was getting pecans for a pie.” recalled Lane of his confrontation with the trespassers. “[I said] ‘You’re along way from the pumpkin grove.’”