Lights and Locks

January 3, 2014 06:41 PM
Lights and Locks

Plan to prevent theft and vandalism on your farm

You’ve heard the stories—and maybe it’s happened to you. Farmers have had copper wire stripped off irrigation pivots or a trailer load of gates mysteriously disappear in the middle of the night. Machinery, trailers, wagons, chemicals, fuel and anhydrous ammonia are all common targets for theft.

Luckily, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to protecting your farmstead. Fred Whitford of Purdue University says the first step in putting together a farm security plan is identifying who might target your farm. For the majority of operations, he says there are two groups: thieves and vandals.

"Thieves are the ones who steal grain, wagons or other items with the plan to resell them," Whitford says, whereas, vandals are just being reckless, damaging or destroying property. "If you look at it from those different angles, you can determine how to guard your farm," he says.

Determine what you have of value on your property and how easy it would be to steal or damage those items. Theft can happen at any time of the day, but nighttime is when most thefts happen. "Look at your place at nighttime," Whitford says. "Would it be easy for a thief or vandal to access your buildings? The answer is often yes."

Shed some light. Whitford says farmers should take some clues from ag retailers, who are also common hits for thieves. "To prevent anhydrous ammonia theft, ag retailers light their places up," he says. "It’s like daylight out there. There’s nothing like a set of lights to detract vandals and thieves from hitting your place."

Another small investment with a big return is a good set of locks. "For most people who have mischief in mind, lights and locks are still your best thing," Whitford says. "Your buildings should have a lock, and we’re not talking about a 10¢ lock." He suggests visiting with a lock expert, who can lead you to locks that cannot be easily cut or shot off.

While it might sound rather simple, Mary Sobba, University of Missouri Extension ag business specialist, says another way to deter thieves is to simply put your equipment and other valuables behind closed doors. "Out of sight is out of mind," she says. By keeping a tidy farmstead, thieves will be more intimidated to approach it, as opposed to a cluttered area where something could easily be removed without instant notice. 

Farm Security Checklist

The route you take to protect your farmstead and personal property can be simple or high-tech. Purdue University’s Fred Whitford and the University of Missouri’s Mary Sobba offer these suggestions when developing and implementing a farm security plan.

  • Take photos of your equipment, tools and machinery. Capture the serial numbers and any identifying characteristics. This is often quicker and easier than having a written document.
  • Turn off the switch to the fuel tank at night to inhibit someone from pumping out gas.
  • When buying lights, consider ones with timers or sensors. Since they are automatic, no one has to remember to turn them on.
  • Consider installing security cameras. Some systems can text photos to your cellphone if triggered. For ultimate security, have cameras that are monitored by a person.
  • If you can’t make the investment in a full security system, consider installing dummy cameras. Mount them on buildings with wires going inside so they look real. Just the presence of a camera might be enough to dissuade a thief. Also, post signs that your property is monitored by cameras (regardless of whether cameras are real or fake).

For additional resources to protect your farm from thieves and vandals, visit

You can e-mail Sara Schafer at

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