Ag theft is likely on the rise in an ag community near you.
There’s a bumper sticker I’ve seen that assures, “My tractor costs more than your Beemer.” While the bumper sticker and others like it are meant to comment on how farming is perceived by non-farmers, it’s accurate that tractors generally do cost more than most luxury cars. In fact, there’s a lot in farming that costs a pretty penny, and, unfortunately, thieves are starting to take notice, too. A recent article in Vegetable and Specialty Crop News maintains that Florida’s agriculture crime, particularly ag theft, is on the rise. Read about it below, and find tips from the experts to protect your agribusiness’s property and its bottom line.
Why Ag Crime is Rising
Like all crimes of theft, ag theft is a supply and demand issue. Gene McAvoy, a UF regional vegetable Extension agent said, ““Back when we entered into the recession, things got quite a bit worse than they are right now, but it’s an ongoing problem.” As the price of supplies, inputs and chemicals increase, thieves look for opportunity to make a quick buck.
The article cites Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman in sharing that the sheriff’s office has received numerous calls about the theft of gasoline used to power irrigation systems. He believes that thieves steal different products during different times of the year.
McAvoy shared that, while he doesn’t believe other farmers are behind the thefts, the thieves do know exactly what they are doing. “We’ve had, repeatedly over the years in Southwest Florida, guys break into a storeroom, especially when chemicals had just come in for application that week, and they take off with $20,000 to $30,000 in the back of a pickup truck,” he shared. Another issue is that a lot of the stolen products can be easily shipped out of Florida and out of the country, making them virtually untraceable.
Combating Ag Theft
The response to the rise in ag crime in Highlands County has been heralded by farmers and ranchers in the area. Sheriff Paul Blackman had pledged to the area ag industry in his campaign for the sheriff’s position. “I made a commitment to our agriculture community that I would increase our agriculture unit here at the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office,” he said, and he followed through on that commitment. He increased the number of agriculture deputies from one to five to better respond to reports of theft and increase efforts to recover stolen goods. There are also two ag detectives and Blackman would also like to change the computer systems to define ag theft as separate from residential and commercial theft, making it easier to track and see patterns.
Both Blackman and McAvoy have tips for the ag community on doing all they can to stop ag theft. Steps include:
- Report every crime, no matter how small. “It’s very important to report that to us, so we can keep track of it to see if there’s any trends. Then, we can start the process of trying to recover, trying to find suspects so we can arrest them and prevent them from stealing from someone else,” Blackman shared.
- Mark your equipment, in multiple places, which Blackmans shared can help deputies during the recovery process. Look into trace technology for high-ticket items.
- Add extra locks, and consider an alarm system or security cameras, on storage rooms, McAvoy advised.
- Be wary of strangely priced chemicals or equipment, an indication they could be stolen. “If somebody’s offering a product at a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is,” McAvoy shared.
- Communicate and build relationships with the agriculture deputies in your area.
- Keep an eye out for odd behavior on neighboring properties.
Griffin Fertilizer is committed to helping both growers and ranchers make sound agronomic and economic decisions in order to maximize the health of their grove and pasture. As a full-service custom dry & liquid fertilizer blender and crop protection product distributor, we will continue our mission to further advance Florida agriculture. For questions or concerns about your farm or pasture, contact us and one of our team will be in touch.
Photo courtesy of Djuradj Vujcic.