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Farm theft: Tough challenge

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POSTED April 2, 2014 12:45 a.m.

Last week a Manteca man walked outside to discover that his 2012 Massy Ferguson tractor had gone missing. 

It took the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department ag crimes task force a week before they were able to locate and return it.

But the outcome of the situation isn’t necessarily typical thanks to a nasty set of circumstances that include no centralized registration database, an abundance of similar models being sold and the remote storage of such machines. 

According to Detective Luis Victoria, thefts like the one that was reported on March 25 on S. Airport Way aren’t exceedingly common but they present a unique challenge for investigators. The heavy reliance by farmers on tractors mean that dozens – if not more – of the same model are sold from area retailers every year, and distinguishing between them at first glance is next to impossible. 

While they’re not as easy to steer down the road as say a stolen Corvette, they are much easier to keep concealed in some of the rural fields of the county. In some instances, Victoria said, stolen tractors, once they’ve been taken out of high-traffic areas, can be used on a daily basis without ever seeing blacktop again. 

And farmers and rural residents are easy prey for thieves that use the wide open expanses of the country – often times under the cover of darkness – to make off with everything from tractors and tools to copper wire. 

The copper wire thefts that were driven by the high-price of scrap metal – thieves would uproot the buried conduit by ripping it from the ground with vehicles – have been replaced with people that will go into outbuildings looking for other valuables. 

Because equipment can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, the theft of a single piece can be devastating to a small agricultural operation. 

“Everybody has a John Deere tractor or a Massy Ferguson tractor and unfortunately they all look alike so it’s hard to distinguish between the one that you’re looking for,” Victoria said. “They’re extremely valuable and that makes them a big target. We encourage people to keep them locked up when they’re not in use. 

“When they are stolen we do put them into a stolen vehicle database, but there isn’t any central registration point before that. We encourage people to keep a list with vehicle numbers that can help us if we’re ever called out.”

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