newsrural virginia farmers struggle to prevent theft property damage

Rural Virginia farmers struggle to prevent theft, property damage

abandoned truck on farm
(© Nancy Anderson –

Rural farmers have a lot of acreage to protect, and even when fences, thieves are finding a way in to steal equipment. Preventing theft is a challenge due to the large acreage on farmland.

“There’s nothing else around, so people can access (the property) coming off an adjacent property on one side,” said Palmer Clifford, a corporal with the Goochland County Sheriff’s Office on an episode of Real Virginia. “Sometimes they can park on the roadway and just enter through a field or wooded area.

“If they’re trying to steal something and they’ve already got it in mind, they’re going to go after it,” Clifford said.

In Amelia County, Kerry Harding experienced this firsthand when people trespassed on his property and stole a catalytic converter from one of his farm trucks.

“My son, who was hunting, came up on two guys at the back of our barn stealing some parts from us,” Harding said. “He called me, and we eventually found them as they were fleeing on four-wheelers.”

The father and son followed the two men and called the police. Eventually, two suspects were arrested.

Harding said the thieves took equipment and caused about $12,000 worth of damage. The theft also cost him time away from the farm to testify in court.

In Nottoway County, farmer Bo Toth had an all-terrain vehicle and a pickup truck stolen, worth approximately $15,000.

The truck was taken while abandoned on a rural road with a flat tire. The ATV was parked near a grain bin on his farm property, and the next morning it was gone.

Toth said he’s also had someone attempt to take a catalytic converter out of a pickup truck that was parked near a cattle pasture.

Virginia State Police and security experts say laws help, but the best defense is for rural residents to take steps to reduce the crime of opportunity, like locking buildings and vehicles.

Clifford said some rural landowners have a false sense of security, so they leave their doors unlocked. However, they shouldn’t.

“Take the keys out of the tractor, put a lock on the trailer hitch,” he said.

He also suggested installing solar-powered lights or motion-sensor lights. And if you’re out of town, ask neighbors to keep an eye on the property.

Harding and Toth agreed that landowners should step up their own security to reduce theft.

“You just have to be aware, especially if you store equipment away from your farm, you just have to check on it,” Harding said.

“You have to be more vigilant,” Toth said.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.