DELMARVA - With spring on the way, farmers are beginning to head back to their fields. However, when they get to their irrigation towers, something may be missing.
"They're not back in those fields for an extended period of time, and they're now finding or discovering thefts of copper wire from their farm fields," says Lieutenant Edward Schreier with the Worcester County Sheriff's Office.
"They'll find out their towers won't move and usually it's because their cables are gone," says David Brown, president and owner of Sussex Irrigation.
The cable that runs through the top of the irrigation towers contains copper wire. Without the cable, the equipment will not work. Thieves reportedly burn off the insulation, melt down the product, and sell the cropper to scrap yards.
"What happens is they cut these cables and they tie it onto a pick up or four wheeler and they snatch it off the machine," says Brown. "When you see a pivot in the field, from wheel to wheel it's going to cost a farmer about 1,000 to 1,200 dollars to fix."
Delaware State Police say they have seen the crime recently, and the Worcester County Sheriff's office is currently investigating about four cases. However, because many of the farmers have not been out to their fields for the past few months, it is making their investigation difficult.
"We don't know exactly when some of these thefts have occurred so that does tie our hands a little bit," says Lieutenant Schreier. "Some evidence that might have been left gets deteriorated due to weather, rain, snow."
"They're costing farmers a ton of money," says Brown. "We're trying to find ways to be one step ahead of these guys."
Sussex Irrigation in Laurel, which sells irrigation products, recommends clamps to prevent thieves from being able to rip wires off the systems. They also have technology that will notify the owner if the cable is cut, along with serial cable that can track the cable if it gets stolen.
"It won't burn off, so when they steal it and turn it in and somebody calls us, we can tell by serial number exactly where that cable came from and who's system it was," says Brown.
Lieutenant Schreier says the best thing a farmer can do is mark their property with a specific ID number or something indicative.
"If it does get stolen and we can track it, we'll know whatever property we find comes back to that person," says Lieutenant Schreier.
Brown says the crimes that happen to farms who are not protected are particularly difficult to solve because there needs to be proof that the property came from a specific farm. Currently, legislators are pushing for a bill in Maryland that would prevent a junk dealer or scrap metal processor from purchasing copper wire from which the insulation has been burned or stripped. Brown says the measure could be huge for farmers, and he would like to see the legislation in Delaware as well.
Lieutenant Schreier warns that thefts are also happening in homes, especially those that are foreclosed or under construction. Now, he's urging everyone to be vigilant.
"It's just a matter of keeping a constant check on your property," says Lieutenant Schreier. "If you see something, say something."
"If you see somebody in the field in the middle of the night, notify somebody, say something, because they're out there doing something wrong," says Brown. "We want to catch these guys it's a major, major problem.
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