Growers being stung by gas prices and thieves

MERCED COUNTY, Calif.

Growers in Merced County are growing extremely frustrated by the constant thefts on their property.

"Every day we hear of a new problem needing to be fixed," said Tony Ferrario. "You can see, this is from our last patch job."

Ferrario, with Livingston-based Garcia Farms, says copper wire continues to be a target, but thieves are also stealing more fuel from tanks and other equipment the company uses to grow almonds and sweet potatoes.

"We've noticed as the gas prices go up, there's been an increase in theft," said Ferrario.

In fact, the Merced County Sheriff's Office has seen 47 gas or diesel thefts in the past eight months, compared to just 20 during the same time one year earlier.

Deputy Tom MacKenzie says Ag crimes detectives are encouraging growers to minimize the amount of fuel they keep in their tanks and take extra security measures. "We're telling farmers secure your tanks, lock your gas tanks, if you can put some kind of cage or alarm system on your tanks."

Most growers already take steps to protect their property, from barbed wire fencing to padlocks. And now some are considering another option.

Ferrario said, "We had talked about switching some of our pumps to propane because leaving a fuel pump is just going to increase the theft, we feel with gas prices being the way they area."

But making that change is not cheap. And with farmers already paying more for the fuel used to grow and ship their goods, Garcia Farms Produce Sales Manager Frank Mesa says customers will be impacted. "Everything is related in that happens out in the field is going to reflect back in the overall cost of the product we ship. And obviously the end user ends up paying the price for this."

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