Locks, Stocks, And A Sprinkling Of Confetti

Police are warning farmers to be more vigilant safeguarding their grain storage after canola was stolen recently from bins in the Spruce Plains area of southwestern Manitoba.

Investigators suspect higher commodity prices could be behind the theft, but they are releasing few details, other than to warn farmers to take measures to protect their inventory.

“There’s a lot of grain bins in secluded areas, or abandoned farmyards,” said RCMP Constable Luanne Gibb of the Killarney detachment. “The padlock might look good, but farmers who check these bins might find that their key doesn’t fit the padlock, because someone has emptied the bin, switched the padlock, and there’s no grain inside. They need to check the locks regularly.”

CHANGED LOCKS

Gibb said a number of canola bins were found emptied around eight years ago from farmsteads near Baldur, Manitou, Crystal City, Carberry, and Cypress River. The thieves used bolt cutters to break the lock and then changed it.

Unmarked grain is easy to sell. “They can haul this grain, and spot sell it at an elevator. They can sell wheat or barley off-board as a feed grain, but often it’s canola,” she said. A tandem truck of canola is currently worth about $5,000.

RCMP would like to see more farmers using grain confetti in their bins – especially ones in out-of-the-way places.

Gibb said it is one way farmers can deter thieves as well as help keep tabs on inventory if it does go missing.

Craig Thomson, vice-president of insurance operations with Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) in Portage la Prairie, confirmed farmers have no insurance on grain in their bins.

“Once they have harvested their grain and it’s in the bin, it’s their responsibility,” said Thomson. “We cover insurance perils before that, such as weather-related perils.”

Country Graphics and Printing in Rosenort appears to be the only company that manufacturers the grain confetti in Manitoba. Sold as Crop Gard coded flakes, office manager Lindsay Ewbank said they are easy to use and relatively inexpensive. It costs farmers about $1.60 to mark 1,000 bushels of grain.

“When you think about it, it costs less than .01 cent per bushel to protect it. That’s pretty cheap for peace of mind,” she said. Six or seven handfuls are needed per 10,000-bushel bin.

COPIES ON FILE

When farmers order their confetti, they are issued with a certificate – about the size of a $5 bill – to keep in their wallets. Elevators are advised to make a copy of the certificate to keep on file at the terminal, said Ewbank. The confetti itself is sized roughly one-quarter inch by one-quarter inch, greyish in colour, and each one contains the serial number for that producer. Grain confetti does not affect the bin run or dockage.

“Then they know that farmer, and that number,” she said. “If there’s somebody different who comes in with that confetti in the grain, or a new driver, then the elevator calls me, and I can verify it. If the RCMP have confetti numbers, they can contact Crop Gard to verify ownership. Elevators do call us to check.”

New numbers are used each calendar year, Ewbank said noting no numbers are replicated. The company began producing grain confetti in 1980, and still holds records dating back to those first orders, on both computer and as hard copies.

DETERRENCE FACTOR

“We have never had a theft report had Crop Gard in it,” said Ewbank. “In fact, we had one farmer who was using Crop Gard, and shared a yard of bins with some other farmers. All the bins were emptied and stolen, but not his.”

Ewbank said that the company supplies about 1,000 boxes per year to Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Kansas, Iowa and North Dakota. For just under $80, a five-pound box marks 50,000 bushels, and comes with five warning decals to go on the bins. Often the decals alone serve as a deterrent.

“People usually order it because they have had crops stolen, or they know someone who has,” said Ewbank. “Last year there was theft of canola that was about $200,000 worth in Saskatchewan.

However, it appears that very few farmers in Manitoba use grain confetti.

“Less than five per cent of guys use it,” said Brad Cullen, director of operations at Tri Lake Agri Ltd. in Killarney. “These guys here (at the elevator) have never seen it, and some of these are 20-plus years guys.”

Cullen contacted several elevators connected to Tri Lake throughout the province, and found similar results. No confetti was reported to have been seen at the elevator in Starbuck “for many years,” or in Brunkild, while a “few” used it in Brandon. Around five per cent of customers use it in Dauphin, less than two per cent in Shoal Lake, and “one or two customers” used it in Dundonald, said managers.

RARELY USED

Darren Russell at the Dauphin elevator said a select few customers use the flakes and only periodically. “There isn’t really a widespread acceptance or demand for them. We have sold them, and I suppose we’ve sort of supported them, but never in a really big way.”

Gibb said one reason for this may be a low perceived risk of theft amongst farmers.

“We live in an area where we are trusting of our neighbours, and people around us,” she said. As well, farmers don’t think of ordering it until harvest and then they are too busy.

According to recent records, the RCMP have never been able to identify and return a stolen crop, she said. But they might have had the grain contained confetti.

Another way to counter theft of grain bin contents is to keep an eye on unusual activity in your area, she added, and to keep notes.

“If you see someone suspicious towing an auger, pay attention,” said Gibb. “We don’t expect people to get involved, but if they can get dates, times, descriptions of vehicles and plate numbers that helps.”

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