Saturday, December 17, 2011

Upgrade Farm Security

Copied from:  Daily Herd Network
Good news! In 2010, the FBI’s national crime statistics indicate a drop in overall crime rates across the U.S. In fact, all regions of the country experienced an overall decline in property crime during 2010 compared to 2009 rates (down 3.8 percent in the South, 2.7 percent in the Midwest, 2.5 percent in the West, and 0.5 percent in the Northeast). All city-dwelling population groups saw decreases in violent crime as well. These are all good things for our nation and communities. But, with the good, also comes the not so good. This same report indicates that non-metropolitan (e.g. suburban and rural) counties saw slight increases in burglaries (1.2 percent) and larceny-theft (3.2 percent). Small increases to be sure, but a reminder that although rural communities are often thought of as “safe”, crime is still present.
There are two avenues to limiting farm-related property crime. First, are the on-farm aspects, which would include activities aimed at reducing a farm’s most significant vulnerabilities. In other words, make the farm a less attractive place for criminals to target. The primary goal for a farm operator is to make getting to the sensitive or vulnerable areas on a farm, to commit a crime, more difficult. Here are some things that can be done to improve farm security:
  • Limit the number of entryways into the farm. Ensure the farmstead and production areas are well-fenced and gates that are not in use are locked. A single farm entry, parking area and exit point ensures anyone coming to the farm will be more easily noticed and identified. This strategy also enables the use of a visitor’s policy to manage and track farm visitors and vendors for business and biosecurity purposes.
  • Provide external lighting around sensitive areas on the farm. Much like cockroaches, those interested in property crime are less likely to be out in the open when potential targets are well-lit. Consider adding security lighting to areas such as: farm shops and tool storage areas, fuel, pesticide, fertilizer and chemical storage structures and tanks, grain bins and loading/unloading areas. Place the master switches for fuel pumps and grain-handling equipment inside a locked building. Lock feed valves and valve handles. Some farms have even made the move to using surveillance cameras. There is also evidence that the visibility of the farm structures and equipment from the farm residence is related to a reduced likelihood of theft.
  • Store high-value tractors and harvesting equipment in visible areas if there are no buildings available. If equipment is left in the field overnight, remove rotors, distributor caps or batteries to limit the potential for theft. Lock tool boxes and fuel caps to limit potential vandalism opportunities. Consider placing a permanent identification number on farm equipment to help identify stolen equipment. At the same time the prominent placement of signage indicating that equipment is “tagged” may help serve as a further deterrent to theft and help identify stolen equipment later. There are a number of “Owner Applied Numbering” schemes in use across the U.S. Check with local law enforcement to see if there is a program at work in your state. There are also privately operated equipment registries such as the National Equipment Registry where individual pieces of equipment can be registered for a fee.
  • Livestock should be permanently identified and regularly inventoried to speed the discovery of loss and aid in returning them. FBI statistics indicate that the value of livestock stolen in U.S. in 2010 was over $19 million and only 12.8 percent of that was later recovered. Youngstock in pens or hutches should not be housed or fed by the roadside. Cattle on pasture (particularly pasture not visible from the farmstead) should be checked daily. Posting signage communicating the fact that each animal is permanently identified can act as a deterrent to theft.
The second major leg of improved farm security involves engagement with the local law enforcement and community. Because farm operations often sprawl across multiple sections or miles, it can be difficult to keep all parts of the operation under regular observation. To do so would require many eyes and significant time. Farm operators can add to the available eyes by engaging with the surrounding community in a Rural Neighborhood Watch program and coordinating with local law enforcement.
The Neighborhood Watch process is designed to build community resiliency and preparedness by helping community members work together while looking out for each other. In such a program, rural homeowners would be encouraged to keep their eyes open for unusual traffic or activity in their area. They might be in position to see outlying pastures, irrigation or other farm equipment not directly viewable from the farmstead. They would also be able to properly report to local farms or law enforcement when they see suspicious activity. Participation in such a program builds a sense of togetherness and community which can be helpful for agricultural producers in many other ways. Rural neighborhood watch programs have been successfully run in states all across the U.S., with example programs run through the land-grant universities in Oklahoma and New Mexico. The added benefit to a rural neighborhood watch program is that it also helps build good neighbor relations, which has become an important activity for most livestock operations in recent years.
Engaging in a neighborhood watch program and increasing overall security features on the farmstead strengthens agricultural businesses and promotes safety in the community.
Dean Ross is an Agrosecurity consultant based in Michigan. Contact him at:

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