South Georgia farmers organize against crime - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

South Georgia farmers organize against crime

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April 16, 2008

Albany -- More than a dozen farms in Lee and Sumter Counties have been victims of copper and diesel fuel thefts in recent weeks, costing them thousands of dollars each.

Now those farmers are joining together to catch those thieves, and have them arrested. Gil Pace is one of more than a dozen Sumter and Lee County farmers whose huge irrigation pivots like this were stripped of copper wire, and a thousand gallons of diesel fuel stolen from it.

Pace said "this situation, we've had enough of, and we are going to do something about it."

The irrigation machines, sitting in isolated fields, have thousands of feet of copper wire.

 Pace said "this electrical wire that transfers power from the generator set all the way out to the end of the irrigation set, and drives each motor and each fan in each tower."

The irrigation machines are powered by diesel engines, with 3,000 gallon tanks of fuel. Now that diesel is about $4 a gallon, thieves have been pumping out thousands of gallons of fuel while taking the copper wire.

Sumter and Lee County Sheriff's Investigators believe most of these copper and diesel thefts are happening at night, and are connected.

 Lee County Sheriff's Office Captain Miles O'Quinn said "They cut it up, strip it down, cut it into slices and sell it. And with copper prices these days it's making it more appealing."

And very expensive for the farmers, costing between six to eight thousand dollars each to repair. It also is costing them crop failure, when they can't pump water on the plants while waiting days for the pivot to be fixed.

Pace said "Farms have been easy targets for some of these thieves. But now we're going to see if we can help put a stop to it."

Farmers are going to hold a meeting in Leslie Thursday night, hoping to raise thousands of dollars in reward money, and offer it for information.

Pace said "what we are thinking is some of these people doing these jobs, for this kind of money, will turn them in."

Sumter and Lee County farmers have already been installing infrared security cameras around their equipment, to catch the thieves on video and identify them. Now they are joining together to fight crime on the farm.

The farmer's organization meeting will be held Thursday night at 8:00 at the Leslie Town Hall. Sumter and Lee County Sheriff's officials, and the District Attorney are going to meet with the farmers to help set up the reward fund.

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