Sunday, November 18, 2018

"The Great Virginia Grape Heist And other tales of agricultural banditry"

From The Atlantic, December 2018 edition:
Tuesday, September 11, 2018, was supposed to be harvest day for David Dunkenberger, a co-owner of Firefly Hill Vineyards, in Elliston, Virginia. He got to the fields early, eager to get this year’s grapes picked before the backwash of Hurricane Florence rolled in. As he scanned the vines, though, he began to feel queasy. His entire crop, about 2.5 tons of grapes, had vanished.

In the days that followed, Dunkenberger grieved the loss of his 2018 vintage and considered the ramifications. Factoring in sunk labor costs and lost sales, he figured he was out $50,000. He thinks that the job was planned by professionals—amateurs could never have snipped three acres clean so quickly—and that it likely would have required a crew of seven pickers, aided by headlamps and two pickup trucks. As for who would be motivated to carry out such a theft, Dunkenberger says he is reluctant to accuse a fellow grower, but can find no other logical explanation. Wine grapes are too sweet to eat. They perish quickly, so they are typically crushed or pressed within 24 hours. “A lot of people are under contract to grow grapes,” he told me, adding that this year’s wet weather had led to disappointing harvests. “If you can’t fulfill that contract, you don’t get paid.” When I spoke with Lieutenant Mark Hollandsworth of the local sheriff’s department, he supported Dunkenberger’s theory: “The rain this year did spoil a lot of grapes.”

European grape growers have also been targeted. A particularly audacious caper made headlines in October, when thieves used a large commercial harvester to steal 1.8 tons of pricey Riesling grapes from a vineyard near a busy supermarket in southern Germany. And last year, several French vineyards reported huge thefts, including a total of more than 7.5 tons of grapes stolen from various Bordeaux farms. Bad weather that summer had cut crop yields drastically, making local growers the prime suspects. As one observer told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity, “There’s a great temptation to help oneself from [the vineyard] next door.”

Or, apparently, from any type of farm that grows what’s known as high-value produce—think avocados, nuts, exotic fruits. One pecan grower in southern Georgia told me that anyone with a $50 tool called a Garden Weasel can “easily pick up 300 pounds in eight hours, if the trees have been shook.”...MORE
Previously in thefts, heists and capers of the agricultural variety:
The Curious Case of the Disappearing Nuts
Sticky Fingers! $30 Million in Maple Syrup Stolen in Quebec
"Thieves Steal Nearly $400K In Walnuts"
$1.1 Million of Premium Vodka Stolen in Miami Heist  
German Thieves Steal 5 Tonnes of Nutella
Three Charged In Massive Millenial Grand Theft
Blame it on the millennials and their darned avocado toast addiction. Last week, three California men were arrested by Ventura County Sheriff's investigators and charged with grand theft of vegetables and fruit—grand theft avocado, you could say—for allegedly illegally selling more than $300,000 worth of the delicious fruit that’s seeing a huge surge in popularity....
... This is a developing situation both we and the Financial Times'  David Keohane have been monitoring closely,
At FT Alphaville:
May 5
Hipsters are after your avocados… and your cream cheese… and your vanilla… and your cauliflower.
April 4
Brooklyn has an avocado bar because of course it does.
Opportunity: Avocado Shortage Fuels Crime Wave in New Zealand
“These stolen avocados can carry risks,” he said....
Los Angeles to Auckland flight time: 13 hours.

[We included a handy map for folks considering an avocado-running career]

Record prices for avocados spark strikes in Mexico and a crime wave in New Zealand