As if it weren’t bad enough that they have to contend with the uncertainties of markets, the vicissitudes of weather, and assaults by insects and diseases, many farmers also must deal with losses from thieves.
After all, could there be a more attractive scenario for thievery: valuable equipment in out of the way places that can easily be vandalized under cover of darkness, or during winter months when the farmer might not often be making rounds.
Stolen items have run the gamut, from machinery/equipment/vehicles of all kinds (some of which ended up being shipped to foreign countries), crops in storage or in shipment, gasoline/diesel, anhydrous ammonia (meth manufacturers risking serious burns, blindness, and even death from attempting to siphon the volatile compound), and in recent years, an epidemic of copper wiring and other metals from irrigation rigs, pumps, and other systems.
Many farmers have faced thousands of dollars in costs to repair their systems (some being victimized more than once), and to add insult to injury the plunderers then sold their booty to scrap dealers with little or no scrutiny or tracking.
That started changing in 2016 with the creation of the Mississippi Delta Agricultural Theft Task Force, administered by Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s office, an effort that then expanded to Louisiana and Arkansas, with Tennessee mostly recently becoming the fourth state to join the coalition. Tennessee Department of Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton says, “This partnership will allow for a swift response across state lines, and will create the best opportunity for recovery and justice.
A multi-state task force is making it more difficult for thieves to sell cabling from irrigation systems and other stolen farm equipment.
An alert system in conjunction with the national LeadsOnline network connects law enforcement agencies, agriculture businesses, and scrap metal dealers. Some 30,000 businesses nationwide report purchases electronically.
“Delta farmers face huge losses from theft,” Hosemann says, “and we’re committed to making it tougher to profit from these thefts — and easier for thieves to go to prison.” Communication and shared resources across state lines “are key to reducing these kinds of crimes, which can have a lasting negative impact on the agricultural businesses we all rely on,” he says. Tennessee’s joining the task force “increases our collective ability to act fast when a crime has been committed, to prevent and prosecute future incidents,” he says.
In 2014, according to the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, one-third of farm crimes involved theft of agricultural equipment. In addition to increased law enforcement scrutiny and more stringent monitoring of transactions at scrap metal dealers, there is technology to help thwart on-farm theft. One company, Net Irrigate, offers WireRat, a monitoring system that alerts owners by phone or text message if thieves tamper with the span cable of a center pivot. Other companies offer monitoring services for center pivot systems that — similar to home security systems — alert law enforcement if there is indication of theft or vandalism.