Protecting Your Pivots

Irrigation systems are prime targets for copper theft.


Copper thieves have targeted irrigation systems on farms for several years, creating a serious problem for farmers all over the country. They steal the span cable from pivots and sell it for up to four dollars per pound; effectively costing the farmers thousands of dollars in replacement expenses.

Sadly, for some farmers it’s beginning to cost them more than new replacement span cable for a machine; it’s costing them their irrigation systems. This was almost the case for a farm in Maxton, N.C.

Carmichael Farms had been robbed by copper thieves more than 10 times in 2007 and 2008. Eddie Carmichael, co-owner, says each time the span cable was stolen from a pivot system they would have to spend $1,000 to replace it. He was concerned at how the losses would affect Carmichael Farms, a cotton, corn, potato and spinach farm owned and cared for by his family for nearly 50 years.

Hit Again And Again
The copper thieves began aggressively targeting the farm in March 2007. Carmichael says the situation looked grim. “I don’t know how many times we’d been hit, but they were about to put us out of the irrigation business.”

Thieves would steal from them two nights in a row. “One night they would steal the wire off of our systems, we would put it back up, and then the next night they would steal it again,” he says.

Every time Carmichael Farms was hit by the copper thieves, they had to replace the span cable in their irrigation system.

The loss cost thousands of dollars, and it wasn’t long before they decided to take action. They began by taking preventative measures: digging ditches, building security fences, even hiring security guards to watch over the property at night. Unfortunately, these measures did not work as they had hoped.

“The security guards kept thieves away at night, but they were too expensive. We couldn’t give up; we had to do something different.”

An Effective Deterrent
Carmichael decided to have a Reinke OnTrac system installed on some of their irrigation equipment, with the anti-theft notification option included. The system is made to monitor any interruptions in the irrigation system and notify the farmer if something happens that needs immediate attention, including span cable theft.
Jerry Smith, the Reinke dealer with Palmetto Irrigation in Denmark, S.C., who sold Carmichael the OnTrac system, said Carmichael is not his only customer desperate to stop copper thieves.

“Copper theft has been a real problem, and the OnTrac system is proving to be an effective deterrent,” he says.

Smith says the OnTrac system gives him and his customers peace of mind. “I’m glad to see we’re catching people with these systems.”

Your Pivot Is Calling
The first time Carmichael’s cell phone alerted him of a copper theft was in December 2007.

“It calls your cell phone, and the OnTrac system tells you what’s wrong; it says, ‘wire theft sensor alarm’,” he says. “When you get that alarm, you throw on some clothes and hit the road.”

Carmichael called the local sheriff and drove to the irrigation system, finding the thieves at the scene. Although he was able to stop them from clipping the span cable, the thieves got away.

Nine months later, in mid-September 2008 at 11 p.m., Carmichael’s OnTrac system alerted him of a span cable theft on one of his pivots. Again, he headed to the irrigation system in jeopardy and called the sheriff’s office. This time the thieves did not get away.

Stop Thief
As Carmichael approached the pivot, he saw their vehicle and gave the dispatcher the license plate number. Then, as he got closer, the thieves scattered in all directions except for one man, who chose to sit and wait for the sheriff’s officers to arrive. The man was arrested, but his accomplices could not be found.

Some time later, as Carmichael headed to the sheriff’s office to press charges, he drove past one of his fields and saw something in the ditch; it was the two fugitives. Carmichael says the thieves were more than willing to confess everything they had done that night.

“They didn’t know where they were or how to get home, and the mosquitoes were eating them alive. They didn’t care if they went to jail, as long as they got out of that field.”

The offenders are now facing charges of felony larceny, and Eddie Carmichael finally gets the winning hand in his battle against copper thieves.


Information submitted on behalf of Reinke Manufacturing.