STURGIS, MICH. - Lifelong farmer Dave Sturgis made an unsettling discovery last spring while going out to water one of his fields. Copper thieves had risked electrocution to strip hundreds of feet of electrical wiring from his irrigation system.
Thefts of copper wiring from farms have reached epidemic proportions in some areas of the country during the past few years, as the market value of copper skyrocketed from about 75 cents per pound in 2004 to more than $3 today.
Lawmakers in at least 27 states have passed or recently introduced bills aimed at making it harder for copper thieves to unload their illg-otten gains.
Arizona citrus grower DeWayne Justice experienced a loss after thieves last January stole some wiring leading from electrical transformers to a pump in his furrow irrigation system.
Unable to provide water that could have offered some warmth to his lemon trees during a freeze, the Waddell producer lost his lemon crop, which he estimated to be a $25,000 to $40,000 loss.
Copper thieves have hit farmers in Arizona and California particularly hard. An Arizona law that took effect in September requires sellers to provide identification to scrapmetal buyers. Buyers must mail checks to sellers instead of paying on the spot.
More needs to be done to curb the theft of electrical wiring, says Julie Murphree, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation. That means cracking down on drug addicts, who are behind much of the larceny.
“We still feel that there is much that’s needed to try to push this back, including working in the communities to try to stop the drug abuse,” says Murphree. “If you can stop it in the beginning, then maybe you don’t have a young kid out there that happens to have an addiction risk his life for a couple of hundred dollars’ worth of copper.”