The stories you can hear from farmers sound like some kind of reality TV show, with plenty of edgy drama: stolen equipment, metal and chemicals. People running vehicles through fences for no apparent reason. Suspicious cars casing dark farmsteads late at night. A ring of meth makers stalking the countryside for guns and ATVs to steal. Big bales of hay “walking” off the farm. Buildings mysteriously catching fire.
Actually, the stories quickly begin to sound more like a horror movie. And some farmers say that local law enforcement officials don’t have near the resources needed to curb farm country crime.
Adding to the mix is the growing threat of terrorism on farms, security experts say. Livestock, crop seed, water supplies and other farm assets can be terrorist targets.
The list of shady characters is a long one: The mischief maker, the thief, the trespasser, the narcotics entrepreneur, the disgruntled employee, the homegrown extremist, the computer hacker, and the terrorist are all potential security threats, according to a Purdue University report.
The main reason farmers are especially vulnerable to burglary and vandalism is simply that their facilities are often so easy to attack.
“Farms and ag assets are wide open to the burglar and to a terrorist,” says Steve Cain, a Purdue University disaster communication specialist. “Farmers often leave buildings and homes unlocked. And if you live close to a major highway or large population, you’re more likely to experience problems.”
Some of your security options are pretty obvious. A good, barking guard dog is an old-fashioned, but effective choice. Gates and good lighting work, too. A central Illinois farmer told the Agiculture.com Farm Business Talk group, “After a tractor was vandalized and a truck load of steel was stolen I installed a locked gate in the driveway of a bin site.
“Since I'm in a neighborhood that is flat and has few trees, the biggest deterrent, according to the local deputy, is a system of lights that go on once a vehicle enters the property.” he said.
Divert and delay
Dogs, lights and gates probably won’t cover off every threat. Farm assets can be nearly impossible to protect at all times, but it helps if you can give the strong impression of having a secure operation.
“Think of ways to divert or delay,” Cain says. “To divert at a low cost think about mounting a discontinued camera on grain bins or other structures. Even if they aren’t hooked up, a burglar will be less likely to break in if he thinks he’s being videotaped.
“Of course, a full security system would be better, but fake cameras have deterred people at a low cost,” Cain says.
“When you think about delaying, use things such as gates and padlocks. Keep keys out of the vehicle and keep vehicles locked," he says. "Those who trespass or steal don’t like being delayed.”
Other precautions Cain recommends:
- Vary your schedule. If you can be observed on a regular schedule, a thief might be able to time your actions.
- If you have to terminate an employee, be sure to change locks on gates and doors.
- Keep valuable items out of view so as not to invite theft or vandalism.
- Don’t keep too many chemicals on the farm at one time, and park tanks where they are not easily accessible to the road.
A document that covers related security issues, such as insurance, emergency response procedures, pesticide security, storage best practices, and more:
Photo: Fred Whitford, Purdue University
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