Thieves target metal valves and copper wire on Valley farms

MADERA COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Sheriff's office investigators in both Madera and Fresno counties say their Ag Task Force teams are dealing with an increase in metal theft.

The Ag Task Force Team says thieves are after metal valves. They are fairly cheap at $75, but on 2,500 acres of land, getting hit with theft at each valve can add up.

Moving thousands of gallons of water across a sprawling farm takes a reliable and sturdy irrigation system -- from the well to the vine in one seamless stream. So when one cog is missing, Madera County farmer Stephen Schafer says the whole system gets thrown off.

"When we first started losing them, we'd replace the brass," said Schafer, talking about the brass irrigation 'T' handle valve. It's nearly impossible to lock up the valves, so now Schafer only buys plastic valves. But he says they're much more expensive than the brass valves, and don't last as long.

Then there's the copper wire theft from the actual irrigation pump itself. "The wires they would take... are solid copper right there. Then they'll cut them loose at the pump and then pull them out," said Schafer.

That metal can be protected with a gate he's installed, but the cost of the miscellaneous patch work is adding up. "I would say on any given year the cost would be approaching four or five thousand dollars."

Both sheriff's offices in Madera and Fresno counties are assisting farmers with the increase in these targeted crimes. But Schafer warns those, even outside the farming community, to be aware that metal theft is still a pressing issue in the Central Valley.

"Wherever you can get that recyclable material that's valuable, they're going to be taking it if they can," said Schafer.

The Ag Task Force recommends that anyone that has metal that can be stolen, to clearly etch your name on the metal, so if it turns up at a recycling center, officers can return the metal to its rightful owner. null
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