In farm states across the country, a new nuisance has settled in. Forget dust storms and locusts, the worst drought in decades has created hay thieves. With an economy continuing to struggle and the barren months of winter quickly approaching, the price for fresh hay to feed livestock is rising — and steeply.

 

Missouri Farm Bureau president Blake Hurst says thieves are targeting the bucolic bundles of straw that dot the fields prior to harvest. The bales are being stolen and then either sold, or used to feed the thieves’ own livestock.

 

“Of course, no one brands their hay, so if you hook onto it with your tractor or your pickup and make it out the gate, then it’s impossible to prove where the hay came from,” Hurst said.

 

This trend is becoming so pervasive that some law enforcement and farmers have taken to planting GPS trackers in hay mounds to make them easier to retrieve the purloined bales.

 

In Oklahoma, two Tillman County men faced felony charges of knowingly concealing and withholding stolen property after being popped for stealing hay from a local farmer. According to the Frederick Press-Leader, Sheriff Bobby Whittington recounted that the farmer suspected he was missing hay and placed a GPS device in one of the bales in the field. When the GPS started tracking movement, the sheriff was notified and the thieves were caught.

 

In his county, Whittington says, the price of a bale of grass hay has gone from $15 to $25 before the drought to between $65 and $70. A bale of alfalfa has risen from $45 to $60 before the drought to between $140 and $150. Add in the loss of other crops to drought and the increasing price of fuel, and perhaps it's time to start locking up your hay.

 

Even farmers as far west as California are falling victim to the hay hijinks. According to Custom Hay Operator Carl Martin, a number of farms in Butte County have had their straw stolen. He says the number of thefts has risen with the price of hay. Considering other crops lost to drought and steadily rising fuel prices, it may be time to start locking up the harvest.

 

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