Copper Thefts Threaten Farming

Copper thieves in Central California are threatening beleaguered farmers and cutting into narrow profit margins.

Central California may be known for agricultural production, but underneath the surface lurks a serious problem in the community with methamphetamine addition and production. This rise in drug addiction is helping to fuel increasing copper thefts in rural communities across the region. Copper thieves, looking for a quick buck, will strip copper wires, pipes, ball bearings, and other elements of farm equipment and sell the scrap metal for pennies on the dollar.

The damages caused by this kind of theft can be devastating to farmers and can often run 10 times higher than the value of the metal stolen from farm machinery (as farmers are forced to repair or replace damaged machinery).

This rash of thefts is coming at a bad time for farmers. While nationwide farm profits may be high, sharp increases in fuel costs in California are shrinking profit margins. With massive losses in farm machinery added in, many farmers are facing a catastrophe.

Complicating this problem is the shrinking of police budgets in many rural communities. The economic downturn has forced many state and municipal governments to cut costs, often with rural law enforcement first on the chopping block. Given that these thefts happen in isolated farms in small rural communities, even a fully staffed police force would be hard pressed to apprehend these criminals (whose crimes may account for up to 85 percent of rural crime in Central California).

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer