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Covid-19 pandemic adding to theft on rural landscape

 By Doug Graves
Ohio Correspondent
MILFORD, Ohio — Earlier this month, the large, metallic red apple sign that hung in front of Dan Rouster’s farm was stolen. For 75 years the sign was an iconic symbol for rural citizens living in Clermont County, helping to attract thousands to this pick-your-own apple and blueberry farm.
The sign was made in the 1940s by Dan’s father and carried with it a lot of sentimental value. Dan was afraid that someone stole it for scrap metal. The local sheriff’s office expected it would taken to a salvage yard for hard cash.
Rouster was fortunate.  His sign was found and returned to him. His dilemma had a happy ending. But other farmers haven’t been so lucky.
While farms have always faced theft issues, there is an uptick in crime now that is being blamed on the pandemic. 
The Covid-19 outbreak has caused loss of jobs and many stay-at-home restrictions. The Franklin County Sheriff’s office in Columbus, Ohio, can attest to the stolen farm machinery, livestock and equipment by thieves who are taking advantage of the pandemic. Deputies there say numerous vehicles on farms and other rural locations have been stolen and stripped of all valuable parts. A common mistake farmers make, they say, is leaving keys inside farm vehicles. This entices thieves to use that same vehicle to transport stolen goods away from the farm or rural location.
“Timber, for example, is a marketable commodity, with well-formed trees of some species having substantial value,” said Dan Balser, chief of the Ohio Division of Forestry. “Keeping an eye out for timber theft on your property or your neighbor’s land can go a long way to deterring theft and significant monetary and resource losses. We have recently seen timber thefts on both public and private land in Ohio.”
Many farmers in Kentucky are dealing with thieves who are targeting their hemp crop. Jimmy Jenkins of Highland Sod Farms in Hardin County had no issues with theft until he started growing hemp. Hemp may look like marijuana, but it doesn’t have the same affect. Still, that doesn’t stop the throngs of thieves in this and adjacent counties from cutting it. And theft of the plant will likely land offenders in jail.
Thieves will try to turn any stolen item from a rural landscape into a profit. What to do? Well, the Franklin County Sheriff’s office offers seven tips to prevent farm and rural theft:
• Lighting. Farms tend to have dark spaces, which can be appealing to thieves. Adding permanent lighting, timed lights and motion lights makes the property less vulnerable.
• Hide what you can. Place big ticket items in barns or at least hide them from public view.
• Lock it up. Get in the habit of locking everything and keeping track of who has the keys. Add lockable fuel caps if siphoning is a concern in the area.
• Screen employees. Conduct routine screenings of employees. Remember, crops, livestock and your livelihood depend on your staff.
• Keep an inventory. There is a laundry list of equipment needed on the farm, some of it you use regularly and some spends more time in storage than in use. If a thief takes something you don’t use often, you may not notice it missing for a long time, making it more difficult for police to recover.
• Mark your property. The FBI has established an owner applied number (OAN) program where, once registered, you’re issued a number that you can stamp onto all of your equipment to easily identify it and deter thieves.
• Neighborhood watch. Working as a ‘community’ is a great way of having extra sets of eyes. Report suspicious activity, inform your neighbors of any thefts, and keep your local police up-to-date. There’s strength in numbers.