Night farmers’ steal $5,000 of crops a week
Farms lose more than $5,000 a week to thieves who target their crops, a farmer claimed yesterday.
Rowland Hill Jr, the owner of J&J Produce in Devonshire, said “night farmers” not only stole produce, but ruined even more as they trampled crops as they carried out raids.
Mr Hill said: “This is an ongoing thing. Every day, every farmer has to deal with this.
“I’d say a good $500 every day is stolen from me and that’s just from vegetables.
“If I had to take a guess, I’d say $5,000 a week is stolen from all of the farmers together, if not more.”
He added: “They might steal 50 pounds of broccoli, but they damage two or three hundred dollars worth of broccoli in the process of them stealing, so they damage more than they steal.”
Mr Hill said he had faced crop theft throughout his 40-year career as a farmer — but that the frequency and brazenness of raids had increased in the past ten years.
He added: “It was a petty thing before, but now it’s almost become a business.
“And it’s not just what they call the night farmer — the night farmer doesn’t come out at night any more, he’s out during the day.”
Mr Hill said that fences were not an option for most farmers because their fields were rented.
He added that many in the industry had installed security cameras, but they did not always capture useable footage of the thieves.
Carlos Amaral, the owner and manager of Amaral Farms, also in Devonshire, backed Mr Hill and said he had been targeted by opportunistic thieves for years.
Mr Amaral added that the biggest hit he took was in 2014 when he lost more than 600 ears of corn in a single night that had been grown for supermarkets.
He said: “We had picked a block of our field so we knew what sort of volume was left to be picked and literally the next day it was gone.
“In that particular case it was close to 60 dozen rows of corn, or about a quarter of the field, and cost us $500 in wholesale price.”
Mr Amaral said that much of the stolen produce would be sold to restaurants or individuals at a cheaper price.
However, he said the stolen produce could be a health risk because of time limits on pesticides used by farmers.
Mr Amaral explained: “Because of the nature of our business we have to treat the crops with insecticides and fungicides to protect the crops and wait within a time frame to harvest.
“But when people come in before its time and steal crops to resell, they’re jeopardising the lives of others. Then we as the farming community face potential backlash.”
Tom Wadson, the owner of Wadson’s Farm in Southampton, said that most people who targeted farms were probably people in desperate circumstances.
He added that farmers who were victims of theft were often left without compensation even if the thieves were caught and charged.
Mr Wadson said: “The irony is that people get convicted and fined, but the farmer lost Lord knows how much money and what does he get? Nothing. How does that work?”
He added: “If the chef expects to get 16 cases of lettuce a week from me and somebody steals ten heads and mashes up 20 cases-worth in the process, you’re screwed.”