If someone steals your wallet when you’re not looking, you could be out a couple hundred dollars. If someone empties your grain bins when you’re not looking, you could be out a lot more.
Farmers in the soggier parts of the Prairies may not be thinking about grain theft yet, but they probably should. On more than one occasion high grain prices and hard times have produced grain poachers who prey on unsuspecting storage bins in the dark of night (or even the light of day).
Canola has been a hot commodity for thieves, with prices currently at a record high. Thefts have been reported in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the last two years. One farmer in Saskatchewan was robbed of a whopping $200,000 worth of canola in 2009.
EASY STEPS YOU CAN TAKE
Stealing grain isn’t a spur-of- the-moment crime; it takes forethought and planning, and thieves need to bring in equipment to help with the stealthy getaway. Deterring theft requires forethought and planning too.
Don’t make it easy for thieves to target you. A bit of planning and preparation on the storage site can do a lot to ensure that stealing your stock just isn’t worth the effort. Treat your storage site like you would your shop, fuel tanks or yard. Make sure the site is well lit so it’s harder for thieves to skulk about unnoticed, and check your stored grain regularly for signs of tampering.
Remove unloading systems from the storage site, or disable them, if possible when you know you won’t be using them, and make the site as inaccessible to the intruder’s equipment as you can. Bins and gates (if you have one) should always be locked, and padlocks should be checked. Successful thieves often cut padlocks with bolt cutters and replace them with locks of their own, hoping that farmers won’t notice when they’ve had unwanted visitors.
INSURING AGAINST LOSS
Farmers can’t count on crop insurance to cover the loss of stolen grain. “We cover the in-field and production-related losses,” says David Koroscil, manager of insurance projects and sales at the Manitoba Agriculture Services Corporation (MASC) in Portage la Prairie.
“Because of farm life being the way that it is, with more farmers choosing to live in towns, there are a lot more unoccupied farms now,” says Rob Suderman, manager of farm insurance for the Mutual Insurance Group (MIG). Suderman says that grain theft is one of the less frequent claims made against a farm insurance policy, but that it does happen. “Most farm insurance policies have the option to add coverage against theft. It’s a relatively inexpensive add-on and a lot of farmers like it because it also covers your grain while it’s in transit.”
“Even if you can get compensated, what does that do to your deductible? Will you ever be fully compensated?” asks Ron Kroeker, owner of CROPGUARD Security Inc., Manitoba’s only crop confetti producer. “Does any farmer actually want to have to go through the hassle of having grain stolen, making a claim, and waiting for compensation?”
Both Suderman and Kroeker make fair points. It’s in farmers’ best interests to buy the insurance, just in case, especially if the cost is reasonable and within budget. But insurance is meant to compensate you for losses after they happen; it doesn’t deter thieves, and it doesn’t slow them down.
Just as you would take extra steps to protect your assets – like buying a steering wheel lock for your car, or an alarm system for your home – it makes sense to try and protect your livelihood as well.
TRACKING YOUR GRAIN
Particularly tricky thieves who manage to bypass a labyrinth of locks, spotlights and laser beams to get away with your hard-earned profit can be hard to catch (and not just because they’re ninjas). Unless they are caught in the act or spotted by a neighbour, there is often no sign that anything is amiss until the farmer finds their grain is gone.
Stolen, unmarked grain is easy to spot sell at an elevator, and so the best way to ensure that thieves can’t sell your grain is to make sure that it can be identified. Lacing your stores with grain confetti lets you mark your grain so that it can be tracked and identified – no branding irons required!
Crop confetti is made up of tiny squares of newsprint with identification numbers on it; the equivalent of applying a serial number to your grain. The confetti is mixed into the grain when it’s stored, allows it to be marked and tracked, and doesn’t affect the grain. It’s a relatively inexpensive form of protection, costing about $100 to mark 50,000 bushels, and means that if the grain shows up at an elevator, they can identify the proper owner.
Thieves don’t generally steal marked grain though. “We have never heard of a situation where confetti-marked grain has been stolen,” says Kroeker.
Like Suderman, Kroeker notes that grain theft concerns seem to be highest amongst farmers who don’t live near their grain stores. “The majority of our customers are farmers who keep their grain stored away from where they live,” he says. “Sometimes farmers think that if they live close by, they’re less likely to get robbed. For those who don’t live on site, a lot of farmers feel like it’s a very economical form of insurance.”