Farmers frustrated by theft talk of arming themselves

FRESNO, Calif.

One farmer told members of a Senate Agriculture Committee meeting in Fresno on Friday it's turning into the wild, wild west of old.

Farmers fed up with finding their water pumps stripped of copper wire told state senators they're now taking up arms to protect their property.

Sanger grower Bill Boos explained, "These individuals are high on methamphetamine, there's no doubt about it and they're heavily armed and I'm gonna tell you straight out that we are also. This is going to become a war zone before it's over. We've got to do something about this and we need your help to put some teeth to it."

State Senators Anthony Cannella and Tom Berryhill came in Fresno to discuss ways to slow the growing problem of ag metal theft.

Berryhill said, "To come across somebody stealing your metal or whatever it's going to put my farmers in harm's way and what you're going to see is everybody out there having to carry a weapon and that's not what state government is for. We should keep those guys safe."

Four years ago Berryhill authored a bill requiring recyclers to hold scrap metal payments for three days. But some thieves are getting around the law by selling copper wire to middle men who regularly sell to scrap yards.

Fresno County officials want to see repeat offenders become prison eligible. District Attorney Elizabeth Egan said, "The risk is minimal because you're not going to prison and chances are you're not gonna go to jail so you can continue your criminal activity."

Brass valves, metal pipes and ladders are also among the items stolen from Valley farms. Out of concern for their families' safety, some growers have formed Ag watch patrol groups.

Los Banos farmer Cannon Michael said, "A lot of the guys I know, farmers in my area, now are carrying concealed weapons with concealed weapons permits. We're doing it legally but I really worry about what the final consequences are gonna be. It's like we're forming these neighborhood posses."

Thursday night in Madera two men trying to steal metal pipes shot at a farmer who confronted them. Fortunately the farmer was not hit.

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