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Secure the farm

The burglary and vandalism stories you hear from farmers sound like some kind of bad reality TV show or maybe even a horror movie. Stolen equipment, metal, and chemicals. People running vehicles through fences for no apparent reason. Suspicious cars casing dark farmsteads late at night. A ring of meth makers stalking the countryside for guns and ATVs to steal. Big bales of hay walking off the farm. Buildings mysteriously catching fire.

Adding to the volatile mix these days is the growing threat of terrorism on farms, security experts say. Livestock, crop seed, water supplies, and other farm assets can be terrorist targets.

The list of shady characters is a long one: the mischief maker, the thief, the trespasser, the narcotics entrepreneur, the disgruntled employee, the homegrown extremist, the computer hacker, and the terrorist. They are all potential security threats, according to a Purdue University report.

The main reason farmers are especially vulnerable to burglary and vandalism is simply that their facilities are often so easy to attack.
“Farms and ag assets are wide open to the burglar and to a terrorist,” says Steve Cain, a Purdue University disaster communication specialist. “Farmers often leave buildings and homes unlocked. If you live close to a major highway or a large population center, you're more likely to experience problems.”

A good guard dog

Some of your security options are pretty obvious. A barking guard dog is an old-fashioned, but effective, choice. Gates and good lighting work, too.

A central Illinois farmer told the Farm Business forum, “After a tractor was vandalized and a truckload of steel was stolen, I installed a locked gate in the driveway of a bin site.

“Since I'm in a neighborhood that is flat and has few trees, the biggest deterrent, according to the local deputy, is a system of lights that go on once a vehicle enters the property.”

Divert and delay

Dogs, lights, and gates probably won't ward off every threat. Farm assets can be nearly impossible to protect at all times, but it helps if you can give the strong impression of having a secure operation.

“Think of ways to divert or delay,” Cain says. “To divert at a low cost, think about mounting a discontinued camera on a grain bin or another structure. Even if it isn't hooked up, burglars will be less likely to break in if they think they're being videotaped.

“Of course, a full security system would be better, but fake cameras have deterred people at a low cost,” he says.

“When you think about delaying, use things such as gates and padlocks. Keep keys out of the vehicles, and keep vehicles locked,” Cain says. “Those who trespass or steal don't like being delayed.”

Following are four more precautions Cain recommends:

Vary your schedule. If you can be observed on a regular schedule, a thief might be able to time your actions.

Change locks on gates and doors if you have to terminate an employee.

Keep valuable items out of view so as not to invite theft or vandalism.

Don't store too many chemicals on the farm at one time, and park tanks where they are not easily accessible from the road. 

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