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Theft can't be entirely eliminated but farmers can deter some of it

LEBANON, Ohio — Last month a Warren County man was charged with felony theft after allegedly stealing $215,000 in grain from a farm employer over the past three years. Robert L. Hull III, 38, was a truck driver for Mike Farms and over that time, he hauled loads of grain to market in Cincinnati.

“He would take a load for himself occasionally,” said Clearcreek Township Police Chief John Terrill, who led the three-month investigation into Hull. Bookkeeping discrepancies led authorities to him.

Instead of selling the loads (which were taken from different silos), Hull allegedly sold loads after convincing buyers he had a “side business.” Property believed to have been purchased with the proceeds of the thefts (including a Jeep, lawn equipment, firearms and tools) was seized by authorities.

That same week a Gallia County man was accused of stealing a tractor from a farm equipment store in Bidwell, Ohio. George Pendleton IV was arrested after the stolen tractor was found at this home during the execution of a search warrant.

Last year Matt Schuster of La Motte, Iowa, was skinned for $18,000 when his soybeans were stolen right out of the field. Fourteen scores of soybeans were plucked and tucked into the pocket of a fellow farmer. The insurance company is unwilling to pay out for the loss.

Ohio’s Coshocton County Sheriff Tim Rogers and Ben Peetz, Agribusiness Risk Control consultant with FCCI Insurance Group, say farmers have thousands or even millions of dollars invested in equipment, crops, vehicles, computers, financial records and other personal belongings.

Too often, they say, those in the rural community feel they are safe theft because they live on the outskirts of town and are isolated from what they see as urban problems.

And while the loss of crops or grain is difficult to prevent, Rogers and Peetz offer four tips for farmers to help themselves from other on-farm theft. These simple tips, they say, have proven to be beneficial to many in rural areas.

“First, you are going to have something go wrong, and you must be ready for it,” Peetz said.

While there are countless ways things can go wrong, you can usually predict some of the more likely situations. A farmer should review their operation and know where they might have the greatest risk, whether it be from fire, theft, injury or equipment malfunction.

Second on their list is having a map of the property and a list of the inventory on the premises, and where that inventory is located on the farm. Third, they say: Use locks and gates.

“Securing doors and entrances with locks and gates is one of the easiest and least costly things one can do,” Rogers said. “While locks and gates can be overcome, it’s one more deterrent that can make the difference. Thieves are going to have to make the effort, and a lot our thieves don’t have the ambition to make that effort.”

Fourth, they say, is to lock your locks and keep the keys.

“A lock is only good if it works, and when it’s in use,” Peetz pointed out. “Keys left in the farm truck, or even the tractor, is asking for trouble. You may need to periodically change the locks and keys, especially when you’ve terminated an employee.”