By Tom Collins
GUELPH — An Oxford County egg farmer says farm theft is a bigger issue than most people realize.
Dan Veldman, of Veldman Poultry Farms at Embro, posted video on Twitter and photos on Facebook last month after a thief broke into one of his layer barns on New Year’s Eve and stole $2,000 to $3,000 in power tools. Not only is this a big breach of biosecurity, “it’s a pain in the ass,” he said.
While the video cameras were able to follow the thief, there were no signs of forced entry and all of the doors were locked. Veldman still doesn’t know how the thief got in.
About 15 years ago, Veldman had a couple of four-wheelers stolen from his farm. That’s when his insurance company said it wouldn’t insure his newest ATV.
Since then, he’s taken steps to keep things safe. All the barn doors were switched to combination locks to replace the reliance on keys. Video cameras are posted throughout his barns, with stickers outside the barn warning of surveillance. He thinks the stickers have been enough to deter thieves as they would simply look for an easier target. He didn’t have another break-in until a month ago.
The thief had flashlights Velcroed to his shoulders, gloves on his hands and a handkerchief to hide most of his face. It seemed like the thief knew exactly where to go for the tools. He also took some glue and put it on the lens of the camera. However, the glue simply darkened the lens, but the thief was still visible.
“This guy looked like he was in his own kitchen,” said Veldman. “He was very nonchalant. He wasn’t sneaking around. This guy was not worried at all.”
After Veldman posted on social media, he had numerous neighbours and farmer friends reveal that they were also the victims of theft.
“This is a big, big problem,” he said. “It’s bigger than we know.”
Since the break-in, Veldman upgraded his security system. Two of the cameras can now detect motion, then take a photo and text it to Veldman. “If someone is in there, at least I know,” he said.
Video cameras aren’t perfect either. Veldman said in another nearby barn break-in, the thief stole the recorder.
Tools, as well as pickup trucks and all-terrain vehicles are the most frequently stolen items from Ontario farms, said OPP Sgt. Laura Brown.
Even worse, most reported farm thefts occur in Western Ontario. Some thefts are unusual. Last year, 130 six-month-old pigs were stolen from an Oxford County barn, 19 puppies were stolen from a Wellington County farm, cannabis was pinched from a legal marijuana farm in Norfolk County and a $40,000 manure spreader was hauled away from a Durham County farm.
Pickup trucks and ATVs are easy pickings because farmers tend to leave the keys in the vehicles to make life easier for employees and family members. Compounding the problem is that stolen vehicles are sometimes used to commit other crimes.
Stolen trucks “are often driven in a highly dangerous manner and pose significant risk to everyone on the roadway,” said Sgt. Brown, who spoke on rural crime at last month’s FarmSmart Conference in Guelph. “Stolen vehicles have also been involved in fatal collisions.”
In one strange case more than one year ago, a thief pulled into a farm yard in a stolen pickup at 6 a.m. to trade for a pickup truck idling in front of the farm house. Depending on the insurance policy, a stolen vehicle may not be covered if the keys are left in the ignition.
Some thieves target farms because they are isolated. “Their locations mean fewer ‘pairs of eyes’ notice when suspicious persons and vehicles are in the area,” Sgt. Brown said.
While rural crime statistics are hard to come by, many farmers have a story to tell. Occasionally a farmer arrives at a field to harvest a crop and discovers someone beat him to it, often never knowing if there was intent to steal or if a custom operator got the wrong directions.
Sgt. Brown offered these theft-prevention tips:
• Install surveillance cameras whenever possible (While this is a deterrent, if cameras are too far away, images are too grainy for identification purposes.)
• Use exterior lighting at night.
• Remove keys from all vehicles, including those left unattended in fields.
• Inform neighbours when your property will be vacant for any length of time (ie: vacation).
• Lock doors, windows and drive sheds, as fuel is another target.
• Record serial numbers of your vehicles and equipment. A large amount of property is never returned because serial numbers aren’t provided and thefts are not reported.
• Take notes of strangers on your property and what they are doing, what vehicle they are driving and their licence plate. They might be back.
Farm theft a bigger issue than many realize, says farmer
By Tom Collins