Commentary: Metal theft


Issue Date: October 17, 2007

A grower perspective

By Mike Young

The stories and first-hand accounts of metal theft are not new to property owners nationwide and those of us in agriculture can most likely recite more than one personal tale of our own. As an almond, tomato and alfalfa grower in Kern County, I have experienced first-hand the brazen actions of metal thieves and the damage they do to our rural property. As farmers and ranchers we are faced with challenges every day and it is unfortunate that we must now include the monthly, weekly or sometimes even daily attacks by criminals and vandals as a part of that list.

In recent months, more than $10,000 in direct losses can be tallied to replace and repair irrigation pumps targeted by metal thieves on my property alone. This story is a familiar one: Thieves have trespassed onto the farm, stripped the irrigation pumps of copper wire and left an operation with not only a damaged pump, but no way of getting water to the fields. If you repeat this account of costly and time-consuming destruction and repair thousands of times, you will have an understanding of what rural crime detectives across California hear every day.

Following the discovery of theft and vandalism to an irrigation pump, it typically takes at least two days before a pump is in working order and can be used to get water to a field. During the hot summer months, the strain on a crop without water is immeasurable. In my personal experience, alfalfa was the hardest hit, but the loss of water for even that short time frame of 48 hours, pushed back production on every crop I grow. Two days without working pumps in the alfalfa fields meant a disruption in the irrigation and the inability to complete the second irrigation of the crop. The end result was a lower yield at a time when alfalfa prices were at a record high.

Unfortunately we've seen that these metal thieves are bold and have no problem targeting properties repeatedly, just waiting for the wiring to be replaced so they can strike again. An ongoing partnership and open communication with our sheriff's department has helped to slow the bleeding. Extra patrols have been implemented in the area and there is a noticeable presence by law enforcement in our rural community.

If you are experiencing metal theft or any other type of rural crime, I encourage you to communicate with your local law enforcement. Crimes against agriculture and in our rural communities are on the rise and the first line of defense is to help law enforcement by giving them the information they need to do their job.

(Mike Young is a diversified farmer and first vice president of Kern County Farm Bureau. He may be contacted at michaelcyoung@sbcglobal.net.)

Legislative update

By Noelle Cremers

California's farmers and ranchers can be added to the long list of businesses hit by the ever-increasing rate of metal theft. Farmers and ranchers are at a greater disadvantage because they operate in rural areas and cannot always adequately protect their property. To respond to this challenge, Farm Bureau co-sponsored legislation with the California State Sheriff's Association this year. Unfortunately, that legislation failed passage, but we have not given up. Instead we crafted a model ordinance for county Farm Bureaus to urge their county boards of supervisors and city councils to adopt.

The model ordinance requires scrap metal recyclers to improve their business practices to reduce purchases of stolen metals. Recyclers will be required to obtain a fingerprint from sellers of scrap metal; report their purchases to the local sheriff's department on a daily basis; pay for "junk" by check after a 15-day waiting period; and report to the sheriff and hold highly suspect items for a period of five days (examples of highly suspect items include manhole covers, guardrails, aluminum irrigation pipe and high voltage transmission lines).

San Joaquin County has followed our recommendations and adopted an ordinance based on our model ordinance. Many other counties throughout the state have also formed task forces to address the issue of metal theft and are working toward adopting their own ordinances. We applaud these efforts and urge other counties to follow their lead, but we have not given up on addressing this issue statewide. During the next legislative session Farm Bureau plans to be back at work advocating for a statewide solution to the metal theft crisis. Farm Bureau will continue to work with law enforcement and other industries impacted by metal theft to ultimately create a solution that stops metal thieves from stealing your property.

(Noelle Cremers is the director of natural resources and commodities in the CFBF Governmental Affairs Division. She may be contacted at ncremers@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.