LOWELL | Farmers are going up against heavy metal thieves, and they plan to win with technology and a partnership with the Lake County sheriff.
Sheriff John Buncich joined Farm Bureau officials and others in a cornfield at Hank Wunderink's farm to view irrigation equipment that has lured copper-hunting crooks into the country. The group talked about how they plan to work together to thwart such thievery.
Last spring, Wunderink said copper wire was stolen twice from his irrigation equipment. Then, he hooked up with NetIrrigate, a wireless agriculture monitory system based in Bloomington. Wunderink and Mark Childress, who lives on a nearby farm and is the local NetIrrigate representative, caught a suspect in November.
"(The alarm) went off at 11:47 p.m. ... We went out ... Mark and I got the one guy on the ground. ... I got some shots off, but the other guy got away," Wunderink said of the encounter.
The second suspect was apprehended later.
Having the wireless alarm system saved him thousands of dollars, Wunderink said.
Susie Hayden, of Eagle Creek Township and leader Lake County Farm Bureau Women, said her farm was robbed of copper wire twice. While the thieves may get less than $1,000 for the theft of wire from two center-pivot irrigation units, it will cost her family about $16,000 to replace it, she said.
Buncich said finding the right field that holds the irrigation equipment on which an alarm has been set off is not easy. That is why Childress prepared a map of all NetIrrigate-protected irrigation equipment throughout the county. It now is readily accessible to the Sheriff's Department when an alarm is signaled.
Buncich promised a "quicker response" and continued pressure on the scrap dealers who buy the stolen property. "We want them checking IDs. We're monitoring them. ... If they're in violation, we'll shut them down right away," he said.
Hayden said the Farm Bureau is offering discounts that make the technology and Farm Bureau Insurance attractive.
Tom Keithley, Lake County Farm Bureau president, said the Farm Bureau offers a "little discount" to install the security systems as well as a $2,000 reward to Indiana Farm Bureau members who provide information leading to the arrest of thieves.
"This is a big issue all over the country right now," he said.
Todd Wottring, district sales manager for the Indiana Farm Bureau, said the price of copper has gone from 75 cents a pound in 2004 to $3.50 a pound now.
"We've had $80,000 in claims from Lake County," he said. Farm Bureau insures 41,000 farms statewide and 341 in Lake County.
"If we're going to continue insuring the farms, we need to beat the thieves," Wottring said.