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Farmers Try to Protect Pivots From Copper Theft

13:00PM Feb 15, 2015

Arkansas farmer George Willoughby was sound asleep Christmas Eve night when a special gift was delivered to him. A large, bearded man guiding a sleigh pulled by reindeer didn't do the job. It was a rat in his fields.

Willoughby had installed a device called a WireRat in one of his irrigation pivots to stop would-be thieves from harvesting copper from the equipment. The new product may save him thousands of dollars in the future, he said.

"It's really neat," Willoughby told The Jonesboro Sun. "I think my farm has been hit at least seven times. This is a good way to put a stop to it."

The rat is a device that detects when wires on a piece of equipment are being cut, according to The device sends an alarm to the local police department and the farmer. Willoughby received an alert on his phone, but he was already asleep, he said. The Poinsett County Sheriff's Department sent officers to the pivot.

No arrests were made, but the only damage done was a cut wire, Willoughby said. Another copper theft on a farm near Osceola was averted by the device, according to a statement from the company.

Copper theft has been on the rise in northeast Arkansas in recent years, according to law enforcement. In the last three months the price of copper has fallen 50 cents to $2.59 per pound, according to figures from NASDAQ.

When prices approach $3 per pound the copper-rich equipment in farm fields become an enticing target, Willoughby said. Most thefts occur in the winter when there is little activity in the fields.

Many fields are vacant and have numerous roads connecting to them making a quick getaway easy, officials said.

Each time one of Willoughby's pivots, an expansive irrigation system common in row crop fields in eastern Arkansas, is burglarized, it costs him $1,000 in insurance deductibles, and it costs his insurance up to $9,000 to replace the damaged equipment, he said.

One person who stole copper from Willoughby's farm was caught several years ago. He was ordered to pay restitution, the farmer said, but since the man's conviction, Willoughby estimated that he may have received $100.

Willoughby grows cotton, corn, rice, wheat and soybeans on his land. Across his 6,000-acre farm he has 16 pivots. His insurance company told him if he would install an alert device it would remove his deductible.

It's a move that has already paid dividends, he said.

"When you look at your equipment you can't even see it," he said. "I know it's there, and it works."--George Jared, The Jonesboro Sun