This story first appeared in the May-June issue of Soybean Business, the magazine of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. This article comes from the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, which hopes to raise awareness about securing farm property and assets. Click here to read more articles from Soybean Business.
In March, four southern Minnesota men were arrested for stealing 22 head of cattle, fuel, a truck and trailer from a rural Watonwan County farm.
In January, Blue Earth County authorities told farmers to be on the lookout for a man in a pickup caught backing up to a remote bin site in an attempt to steal grain.
Last fall, vandals did well over $500,000 worth of damage to buildings and farm equipment in Blue Earth County in a one-night spree that involved driving tractors into buildings, rolling a truck into a river and flipping a grain cart into a ditch.
And most recently, $70,000 worth of bull semen was stolen from a barn in Mower County. The thief simply took a canister containing vials of bull semen from an unlocked barn/milking parlor.
These disturbing behaviors are being played out with greater frequency across rural Minnesota. Many farmers operate farms with multiple locations and remote building sites, some of which are uninhabited. Those can be prime targets for thieves.
“We are seeing more burglaries at off-site farm locations,” says Blue Earth County Deputy Rich Murry.
Murry says thieves not only target farms for tools and equipment, but even wiring can be sold for scrap.
John McGuire with TDX Tech agrees with Murry’s assessment. McGuire works with farmers and businesses across the farm belt to put security measures in place. McGuire recounts one instance where thieves stole everything inside a rural home, including the refrigerator. Two weeks later, the house was hit again with thieves stealing the only piece of furniture that had been replaced—a brand new bed.
“A lot of guys are trying to figure out how to protect their stuff,” McGuire says. “That includes their fuel, but also tools and even their livestock.”
McGuire works with farmers primarily on video surveillance systems. He says video monitoring is becoming increasingly popular for farm security, but also for herd management and biosecurity. Prices and quality have improved, making them a viable option for many farms.
Not every farm site in rural Minnesota is occupied, but it’s probably still being used for some farming purpose.
“Maybe Mom and Dad used to live on the main farm place but now they live in town or go south for the winter. The fuel, tools and equipment are still stored there but now there’s nobody around,” McGuire says.
Given 15 to 20 minutes in a farmer’s shed, McGuire says thieves could easily steal $20,000 worth of tools.
“Most of the time the concern is that there are people wandering around on the farm that shouldn’t be there,” McGuire says.
In one case near Rochester, McGuire says a farmer went to an uninhabited site to install a remote camera system and found someone wandering around the farm. The stranger left after being confronted by the farmer. The man was later arrested for stealing from area farms.
McGuire says a lot of video monitoring systems can tie into a digital video recorder, which can be connected to the internet, giving farmers access to the images on their computer, smart phone or other mobile device. While the quality and affordability of systems have improved, McGuire says getting license plate numbers of vehicles coming in and out of farm sites is still the number one thing a system can provide. He also says motion activation sensors to trigger cameras help gather images of people walking through doors.
Video monitoring systems are available at many different levels depending upon the quality, number of cameras and the amount of data being gathered. McGuire says the average system ends up costing between $1,500 and $2,500.
Biosecurity and herd management
Farm security involves more than just protecting grain, tools and equipment from theft or damage.
For livestock producers, there’s the added level of biosecurity and herd management. McGuire says some farmers use remote monitoring systems to check on herd health, particularly during calving, lambing or farrowing.
Knowing when and if a birthing mother needs help can save both mom and babies without causing additional stress to the animals. Systems can also help with biosecurity and proper animal management. Reviewing procedures to make sure proper protocol is followed can help prevent disease and animal health issues. It can also help farmers understand what happened if problems do arise.
“A lot of it is about knowledge,” McGuire adds. “Who is going where and doing what? Are employees doing it right? Is there someone in there that shouldn’t be?”
Deputy Murry says as with home security, it’s important that farmers take precautions to ensure the safety of their farm sites. Basics like good lighting and solid locks are important to protecting valuable tools and equipment.
“Number one is to know what you have,” adds Murry. “Keep an inventory, take pictures, write down serial numbers or other ways to identify what you have.”
Murry says it can be difficult to return recovered stolen property if there is no way to identify where it came from. That’s why it’s important for farmers to document their belongings with an inventory, photos or even video.
Beyond identifying tools, it’s also key that people in rural areas are aware of what’s going on around them.
“Be a good neighbor. If people see things that appear out of place, let us know,” Murry says. “We’d much rather get a false call than to have someone become a victim and then have us try to return stolen property.”
McGuire is realistic in is assessment of this growing trend.
“Unfortunately, thieves are getting more sophisticated in figuring out that there can be easy ways to steal stuff from farms,” he says. “And it doesn’t take long.
Thieves can also be quite brazen. In April, a man was arrested for stealing about $5,000 worth of soybeans from a farm in Le Sueur County. Authorities say the man fashioned a makeshift loading spout onto the side of the bin, then cut a hole in the wall with a torch, allowing the beans to flow into a grain truck waiting below. He is also suspected of doing the same thing on another farm in Blue Earth County.
The unoccupied Le Sueur County site was used solely for grain storage.
Tips for securing your farm
- Keep your property well lit; use motion-sensor lights as well.
- If you have an offsite property, make sure it looks used. Worn paths to bins or buildings are a sign to thieves that someone may return.
- Visit your offsite property often. Besides working to wear down paths, visiting your site lets you observe your surroundings.
- Invest in quality locks for all your buildings.
- Use a video recording system to capture license plates entering and leaving the property.
- Use motion-sensor cameras to capture people entering doors.
- Take inventory. If a burglary does occur, pictures and serial numbers will help identify your property.
- When traveling, have a neighbor or worker check your farm and any offsite properties.
- On that same note, don’t tweet or post on Facebook you are on vacation or away for an extended period of time. Sadly, people we know or friends of people we know don’t always have our best interest in mind.
- Know who is working for you. While you may vet your employees, contractors may not do the same for their employees. Be careful with the information you share.
- Be vigilant. If you see someone lurking around your property or your neighbors, call the authorities.
- If it appears someone has broken into your property, call the authorities and wait for them to check the scene. In the end, you can replace your property, but not your life.
- If you must leave machinery at an unoccupied site, take the keys with you, lock cab doors.
- Machinery left outdoors should be parked in a well-lit area or directly beneath a yard light.