In the Mississippi River Delta (composed of regions in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee), theft on farms of equipment, machinery, and metal parts from both has become commonplace. With support from these four states, the Mississippi Delta Agricultural Theft Task Force was created by the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office in April of 2016 to connect law enforcement, farmers, and scrap metal dealers through an electronic alert system. Upon receiving a report of a theft, local law enforcement will alert the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office. The Office then uses the scrap-metal theft portion of the online investigation site LeadsOnline, to alert all parties about the theft. This quickly connects local law enforcement and scrap metal dealers across state lines.
Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann asserted the state’s “commitment to protecting farmer’s equipment and hard-earned dollars.” According to the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, as recently as 2014, 33 percent of farm crimes involved the theft of agriculture equipment. Frequent targets include copper wire, irrigation equipment, livestock, tractors, and other vehicles. Farms are vulnerable to theft due to their remote rural locations. Additionally, monitoring vast acres of land in the off-season or at night is beyond the abilities of the average farmer.
As most machinery and equipment isn’t used in the winter; theft often goes unnoticed until the spring. By this time, the thieves have already sold the parts to scrap metal shops. If a theft hasn’t been reported yet, the scrap metal shops aren’t on the lookout for stolen materials. By taking frequent inventory of their property, farmers can assist the taskforce by reporting thefts sooner. In the July 2016 issue of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) Market Bulletin, Commissioner Mike Strain stressed the importance of tagging livestock and keeping copies of vehicle identification numbers to identify recovered property.
Theft of equipment adds a burden to farmers already facing the financial ramifications of extreme weather events, pests and diseases, and changing market prices, having the potential to jeopardize the entire growing season. “At a crucial time of the year like now at harvest and when you really need it and it [farm equipment] comes back missing, it sets you back and all that time looking for other equipment,” says Darrell Green of Southside Farms in Mississippi about a string of farm machinery thefts.
“This partnership will allow for a swift response across state lines and create the best opportunity for recovery and justice,” J. Templeton, Tennessee’s Commissioner of Agriculture, said about the Task Force. With growing season just around the corner, farmers will be able to lean on the interstate task force to help reduce farm thefts in the Mississippi River Delta.