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Farmers still urge vigilance as crop thefts fall after publicity

Cut and go: crops grown by D R Farms, Devonshire in a field by Brighton Hill are targeted by thieves in daylight as well as by night (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

Publicity over widespread theft of crops has dampened what farmers charge is an underground marketplace in stolen produce.

But the chairman of Bermuda’s Board of Agriculture still urged the community to “do their due diligence” before buying suspect fruit and vegetables.

Devonshire-based farmer Carlos Amaral warned: “If you see a guy driving around on a bike with bunches of bananas held between his legs, it’s stolen — guaranteed.

“They’ll drive up on a field on a bike, load up and then drive off. It’s just cut and go.

“It’s an opportunistic theft that takes advantage of the situation in the quickest way possible.”

Mr Amaral said coverage this month, including a visit to farms by home affairs minister Walter Roban to discuss thefts, had “put the brakes on a lot of these guys that have been hitting our field”.

He added: “Unfortunately the minister and the police are limited in what they can do.

“People need to be mindful of what guys are up to, who are trying to sell things and that are not farmers.

“If you see some guy in a field in a private car loading up stuff, nine times out of ten that’s not a farmer.”

Echoing accounts given to The Royal Gazette this month by four of the island’s farmers, Mr Amaral said the stealing from fields was not an act of desperation.

“It’s not farmers having issues with individuals stealing something to eat it for dinner.

“It’s the wholesale stealing of produce they are turning around and selling.

“That’s the big threat. That and the damage they do to the fields. The problem’s going to see a lull for now, but it’s up to the general public.”

He said farmers could take note of suspicious bikes, but the vehicles or their licence plates were often stolen.

Mr Roban last week called the theft “intolerable” and agreed that thieves were plundering fields with the intention of selling produce.

He said: “There are some people that might say these are people who are struggling, who need food.

“But if I can be blunt, I’m not buying that in its totality for a number of reasons.”

Mr Roban highlighted the large quantities of produce stolen and the “planned and orchestrated” methods.

“It’s about people stealing produce and selling it to other persons for profit,” he said.

“Thus they are taking valuable produce out of the hands of our Bermudian farmers.”

Mr Roban added that while commercial farmers were “very sensitive to the care and attention that is given to their produce”, thieves were not.

“Often they take produce that hasn’t been properly cleaned or washed.

“People might be getting something that is not safe for them because it has not been properly prepared for consumption.”

Tom Wadson, a Southampton farmer, called crop theft “a disaster” and took issue with the term “night farming”.

“It’s theft, not night farming, and it’s 24-7,” Mr Wadson said. “It’s in broad daylight.

“It’s a direct threat to food security. It means that, with a field that normally produces a certain amount of bananas a week, I can’t supply my customers that week.

“Are there bikes going into fields? Sure. Or parked next to fields, which is a dead giveaway.”

Mr Wadson said he had reported a motorcycle to police about two weeks ago after spotting the vehicle parked on the Railway Trail close to fields near his own farm.

He said: “The key’s in the bike, the helmet’s on it, and here comes a guy in a hoodie with a bag full of broccoli who booked it into the bushes when he saw me by the bike.”

Mr Wadson said he later found the dumped produce in the undergrowth.

He said the owner of the bike had come back “pretending like he’d been exercising”.

Mr Wadson said he had “given up” on the problem being stopped and was investing in electrified fencing.

“If I’m losing 300lbs of produce a week worth maybe $600, it doesn’t take too long to pay for itself.”

He said he was considering getting a more traditional alarm system — such as geese, which could act as guard animals in fields.

“The pièce de résistance is getting the right breed,” Mr Wadson said. “I’m looking to find the one that rises to the occasion.”

Mr Roban told the Gazette he had “zero tolerance” for an activity that presented a risk to public health.

“We are looking at further measures about how we can support our farmers and ensure that this type of activity is dealt with severely.”

He added: “We are going to look at technological options, legislative options with further co-operation from our farmers to see what we can do to help in this area.”

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Published January 31, 2022 at 7:55 am (Updated January 31, 2022 at 7:46 am)

Farmers still urge vigilance as crop thefts fall after publicity

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