The Department of Homeland Security reported last week that copper thefts are up by at least 50 percent as a result of record copper prices. Of the industries being targeted for copper thefts, agriculture ranks near the top.  

Tim Reed, a rural crime detective in California, agrees that there has been a huge rise in thefts. Reed said he believes the increase in metal prices, combined with methamphetamine use, is behind the swell in thefts. “The economy could also be a factor,” says Reed. He explains that some people may have lost their part-time jobs and are looking for ways to make up the income.

The problem is that a thief will steal $20 or $30 worth of copper and do $5,000 to $10,000 worth of damage, says Reed. For example, a thief will go up to the power panel for the irrigation pump; shut off the breaker, tie a rope to the panel and pull away, ripping the conduit out of the ground. “They have no knowledge as to what they are doing -- they're just after the copper wiring,” he says. 

The agriculture industry is not alone. The Department of Homeland Security reports a similar incident this year in California. Vandals knocked down 300 power poles as they attempted to steal copper wiring from the poles.

Stainless steel and brass are also favorites. Just last week in Hilmar, Calif., a calf-feeding truck was stolen from a dairy. The truck had a stainless steel milk tank in the bed. When the vehicle was recovered. the stainless steel tank was gone. The tank was likely cut up and sold to a recycler, says Tom Orvis with the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau.

Previously in California, there has been a rural task force that conducted sting operations on rural thefts, monitored recycling facilities and kept an eye out for farmers and ranchers. But with budget cuts, that’s no longer the case. There is nobody watching the recycling facilities anymore. “Farmers have to watch out for their own stuff,” says Reed.

To prevent thefts from happening on your farm, Reed advises to start looking at your farm from a criminal’s perspective. “If it’s easy to drive up and pick an item up, they will. Do not leave anything accessible. These punks will rip you off,” says Reed.

He also advises to think about if an item were stolen how would the police identify that it was yours? “Grind notches into things, use bright colored spray paint, stamp an owner applied number on everything – do something to identify it from the out of the box store generic,” he explains. “Otherwise there is no way to identify that it is yours.”

The last bit of advice Reed shares is to quit thinking it won’t happen to you because it will.

For more tips on preventing theft, read: Farms on alert following copper thefts

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