Protecting Your Farm from Theft

Posted: July 7, 2011

Recently a farmer in Dauphin County commented that he had an unfortunate experience where a chain saw, a toolbox and some other equipment “disappeared” from his shop area. Regrettably theft from farmsteads is a real threat.
Sheep on Cumberland County Farm

Sheep on Cumberland County Farm

Perhaps it is the economy or lost jobs or drug money or just opportunists that all farmers need to prepare themselves for this risk. Just consider what thieves may find of value on your farm. This could include: power tools, hand tools, batteries, generators, welders, motors, chemicals, supplies, radios, quads or even copper and other metals. And that list doesn’t include highly valuable items like tractors and other farm equipment.

Persons in the law enforcement business refer to the 3D’s when attempting to reduce crime. These include: deterrence, detection and delay. Deterrence involves things like lighting, gates, cables across field lanes, fencing, no trespass signs, security systems and dogs. Detection includes something to alert you when someone enters your property. This could be lights with motion detectors, cameras, or other sensors. It could also include visual surveillance by your employees or your neighbors. Finally delay is part of the strategy to slow access to your property or equipment. This could include cables across field lanes, fencing, locking doors on equipment and shops and possibly parking equipment away from public viewing when left in fields overnight. Many operators will lock equipment and disable it by removing batteries or distributor caps or installing shutoff valves on fuel lines. Is your toolbox on equipment accessible and locked? What about your fuel tank?

Police and insurance agents recommend that you review your operation from a thief’s viewpoint. Ask yourself what would be the easiest method to enter and steal items. You should be able to quickly identify potential targets. Some frequently overlooked items include metals and motors. How easy would it be for someone to remove gates, copper wiring, motors, irrigation equipment, etc? Neighbors can be a great source of protection and security.

Thieves have many strategies they use when identifying potential targets. These include calling addresses to see if anyone is home. Police recommend not putting your name on your mailbox which can provide easy access to phone numbers. Another strategy involves watching farmsteads to establish patterns of use. It is recommended that farmers vary your daily routines somewhat to be as unpredictable as you can. Ask your suppliers to schedule deliveries when someone will be present and that the suppliers maintain records of every delivery made and their personnel involved in the delivery.

Always ask for credentials of any unknown or unexpected visitors. If the individual is real they will not mind your request. If you are suspicious of their credentials, use a website or some other method to call the office or organization they claim to represent. Do not use the number that they provide as crooks have been known to provide a number of an associate who will verify them.

If you have employees be sure to manage your locks and keys. You should keep a record of all locks, the location of each lock and the number of keys that exist for each lock. Keep a list of any employee that has each key and inventory all keys periodically. Do not issue keys for convenience. Only provide a key when necessary and then follow through on proper return.

When purchasing locks you should select locks of highest security quality. These locks come with keys that are not easily reproduced. The locks are pick resistant and all keys are marked “Do Not Duplicate”. Consider that locks are only as secure as the hasps they are attached to. Use hasps that fold over, preventing access to mounting screws.

When you leave equipment in the fields be sure to remove all keys. Unfortunately most farm equipment keys are designed to be interchangeable on other equipment pieces or replacement keys are easy to obtain on the internet. This means that physical security is close to zero. At least be sure to lock doors if possible. Never leave equipment within easy access to roads. A lockable fuel cap can easily pay for itself with today’s price of fuel. Take an inventory of all of your equipment. Take pictures, record serial numbers and note any unique dents, decals, welds etc that can assist in recovery in case of theft.

Don’t let a thief catch you unprepared. Do all you can to follow the three principles of Deterrence, Detection and Delay.

Paul H. Craig is the Penn State Cooperative Extension Educator for Agronomy serving the Southeast Region of PA.  Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce.  Penn State Extension in Cumberland County is located at 310 Allen Road, Suite 601, Carlisle, PA  17013, phone 717-240-6500, e-mail