Almond thefts steal thunder from’06 crop

“I hope they catch the thieves,” said Scott Phippen of the people who stole two, 40-foot ocean containers carrying 88,000 pounds of almonds ready for export valued at $260,000 from the Traivalle and Phippen facility in Manteca, Calif., on July 1. “Our policy was no loaded containers in the yard,” said Phippen, the company’s president. “We did it just one time. It got us.”

The nut theft was one at least four agricultural heists this year in California’s almond and walnut industries. Total losses are estimated at about $2 million, according to Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department media relation’s officer Royjindar Sing.

“Our theory is that an organized group from overseas is behind this,” said Sing. “We are trying to follow the same crime patterns of similar groups.”

In the Traivalle and Phippen theft, each container on two-axle trucks were loaded June 30 and stolen on July 1 during the long July 4th weekend. The trucks were parked on the backside of the facility out of view from passing traffic. Security cameras were aimed toward the front of the property and out of sight of the loaded trucks. The thieves hot-wired the trucks, drove down the road and then transferred the containers to street legal three-axle trucks.

“Who would ever think when you’re out in the middle of nowhere that something like this could happen,” said Phippen. “In the country, usually a four-wheeler or gasoline is stolen. I’m 99 percent sure they (the sheriff’s department) will not find the almonds.”

Was he insured? Phippen thought so. The reality was yes and no. He had insurance but unbeknownst to him, it was not replacement coverage. But a grateful Phippen said his insurance company, Nationwide Agribusiness, covered the total loss minus a $10,000 deductible. Phippen has been open with the media about the theft to bring it to the almond industry’s attention and to encourage others to make sure insurance coverage literally covers everything.

“You can’t run your business in this day and age with E. coli, thefts and other threats. You have to make sure everything is covered.” He now has replacement coverage. “I have learned a valuable lesson. I’m glad I only lost $10,000.”

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