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Theft on the farm

Agriculture.com Staff 05/18/2006 @ 2:43pm

Brian Altenderfer, Trenton, Missouri, experienced a theft on his farm in March 2005. He estimates close to $20,000 worth of equipment and tools was stolen.

On March 8, 2005, Brian Altenderfer, Trenton, Missouri, started his morning like any other. He hopped in his pickup and headed to his shop, the base of his operation. When he arrived, he found the lock on his shop door destroyed and the door slightly ajar.

As he entered the shop, which is located about an 1⁄8 of a mile from the main house, he discovered it had been vandalized. At first glance, Altenderfer noticed bare spots where larger pieces of equipment once sat - a portable air compressor, a laptop, and a large triple-stack tool set filled with a variety of tools accumulated over many years. A closer inspection revealed more items missing. It was a theft that would add up to almost $20,000.

Altenderfer's loss was not the first incident in the area. There had been several in the last 60 days with similar items and quantities taken.

"I had heard about thefts in the area," says Altenderfer. "But I got lax about security because I live close to my shop, and we're 3 feet from the highway."

According to a report released by the National Equipment Register in February 2005, Missouri was ranked number four for heavy equipment thefts, up from number eight the previous year.

Trying to piece together what may have happened, Altenderfer believes the thief or thieves entered from the highway. But they didn't leave the same way. Fence was cut through in several fields, allowing exit out the back way.

At the time, Altenderfer wasn't sure if the culprit was someone local who was familiar with the area or a stranger who had targeted farms in the vicinity.

"I have never liked 911 addressing, mapping, and satellite imagery so readily available on the Internet. In an evening, I can find your address, map it, get photographs of your layout, learn who your neighbors are and their locations," says Altenderfer.

It's a double-edged sword. You want emergency personnel to be able to find your property quickly if you ever need assistance. However, it also provides criminals with a wealth of information, which makes their line of work that much easier.

Understandably, Altenderfer has become more guarded about sharing too many specifics about his particular operation and has taken steps to make a thief's job more difficult.

Altenderfer has installed video surveillance cameras to monitor the shop and fuel tanks at all times. "The camera I chose has good night vision, and it has a battery backup in case the power should go out," he says.

Altenderfer had a few photographs of some tools but not all of them. Shortly after the theft, he began marking equipment and tools and keeping a better record of serial numbers. He now has a more complete log and photographs of the tools and equipment he has.

The shop door has been replaced with a reinforced door, and a dead bolt has been installed. Extra locks have been added to sliding doors. Bigger items that must stay in the shop are chained and padlocked to something large enough to make them difficult to take.

Motion detection lighting has been installed in front of the shop and by the fuel storage area.

"I don't know of any way to stop thieves. But I can try and make their job a little harder," he says. Altenderfer used to store the majority of his tools and equipment in the shop. "I don't have everything in one place anymore. But it also takes more time," he says.

Communication with his neighbors has also changed. "I have more of the neighbors' phone numbers programmed in my cell and talk more often about anything out of the ordinary."

One word of advice Altenderfer does give, "Make sure you keep your insurance up to date and make sure it will cover what you own."

Michael Voiles, Missouri Farm Bureau Town and Country Insurance Company, agrees. He says knowing what you have is key. Take pictures and keep accurate records. Be sure to include when you purchased the item and what you paid for it.

He also says knowing when to review your policy is important. "It's really a personal choice. You have to ask yourself, 'If I had to replace it, would it make an impact on my overall operation?' If the answer is yes, you should review your policy," Voiles says.

"It was difficult for a while," Altenderfer remembers, "because I had to figure out how to do things without equipment I was used to having at my fingertips. They stole a lifetime collection of tools I've found over the years."

A little over a year later, the Grundy County, Missouri, sheriff's department has made an arrest in the case, and a local man is in custody. While there is some satisfaction in knowing the alleged thief was caught, Altenderfer still feels the effects of the theft. "Even today, I don't realize something is gone until I go to use it," he says.

Brian Altenderfer, Trenton, Missouri, experienced a theft on his farm in March 2005. He estimates close to $20,000 worth of equipment and tools was stolen.

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