By DOUG GRAVES
JACKSON, Ohio — People who live and work on farms have enough challenges without having to deal with thieves. The latest statistics from the FBI show while there’s been a drop in the overall crime rate in the United States, there has been a slight increase in property crime in rural areas – specifically, farms.
In Rio Grande, Ohio, last month law enforcement got together with farm families to talk about crime prevention at their fourth annual Farm Watch. Theft on the farm is unfortunately an issue in this part of Ohio.
“A few months ago someone broke into my shed and stole $600 worth of items, things like weed eaters, lawnmowers and grinders,” said Larry Shong, who breeds cows on his farm in Bidwell.
Participating at this Farm Watch were representatives from the Gallia County Sheriff’s Department and Ohio Homeland Security. Authorities told the gathering that a law went into effect in January that requires dealers who buy scrap to use an online database to take pictures of the scrap they purchase and of the person who brings it in.
The sheriff also informed the crowd the Ohio Farm Bureau offers rewards to those who share information on thefts that lead to arrests.
“Rural watches are cropping up all over the state, and with good reason,” says Gary Brockman, who is spearheading such a watch in Mahoning County. “Law enforcement can only do so much. We have be the eyes on our property and our neighbors’ property, too.”
Rural theft is common in all parts of Ohio. In London last fall, two men drove from Pitstick Farms with two Kubota turn mowers in tow. And near Carrollton last month, Carroll County deputies nabbed three men attempting to steal $5,000 worth of equipment from a barn.
Farm equipment isn’t the only loss. So, too, is livestock. Last fall the sheriff of Mercer County arrested four men for stealing hogs from a farm and attempting to sell them. In January, law enforcement officials started an investigation into the theft of three Standardbred horses from the Fulton County Fairgrounds. Many leads were provided, but the horses have yet to be found.
Occasionally, the theft of livestock has a happy ending. Two years ago Tim and Diane Waechter of Goshen were relieved when their 10-year-old chestnut Arabian was tracked down to Bracken County, Ky., and learned their Arabian/Saddlebred mare had been sold to an Edwardsburg, Mich., family whose three daughters wanted her for a 4-H project.
The horses were sold at an auction in Shipshewana, Ind. A tip to local authorities, as well as help from the auctioneer and the Internet, led police to the horses’ whereabouts.
In Warren County, Helge and Holly Buflod were reunited with their two horses that were recovered in Michigan and Indiana. “We both cried when we found out,” Helge said. “It’s a miracle that they were only gone for a week.”
Perhaps the most sought-after piece of farm equipment these days are tanks containing anhydrous ammonia. The agricultural community has used this chemical as a low-cost, highly effective nitrogen-based fertilizer for years. It is also coveted by illegal drug dealers, who use it to manufacture methamphetamine.
“Since anhydrous ammonia is a critical component of the drug manufacturing process, the ag community can play an important role in protecting their communities by limiting inappropriate access to this material,” said Dee Jepsen, program manager for Agricultural Safety and Health at Ohio State University.
Farmers face two main hazards when thefts occur at their farms. The first is accidental contact with the chemical from malfunctioning valves and spills. The second is the explosive threat from the chemical when it is placed in improper containers.
While thieves of farm equipment and livestock may have trouble hiding their stolen goods, thieves of ammonia tanks often bury the tanks underground, making detection nearly impossible. “If we sit and do nothing, we stand to lose a lot,” said Brockman, a victim of a stolen ammonia tank himself. “Farmers need to be vigilant at all times. When we let our guard down, we play into the hands of thieves.”