Hay-Bales Theft on the Rise, Thanks to Drought and Wildfires

Written by Michael Graham Richard

Will We Ever See the Hay Mafia?

Economics 101 says that, all else being equal, when the supply of something goes down, the price should go up. That’s exactly what has been happening with hay in drought and wildfire-afflicted areas of the United States. In fact, many aren’t ready for fork up the extra cash, or they simply can’t locate a seller, because there’s been a big resurgence of hay bale thefts. “Sheriffs in rural counties in Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas say the spike in hay thefts is part of a broader rise in agricultural crime,” writes the New York Times. It’s not the most heinous crime out there by a long shot, but it affects the lives of many farmers and it’s a symptom of the kind of extreme weather we’ve been experiencing. And on a warming planet, we should expect more…

California’s farmers have grappled recently with growing thefts of grapes, beehives and avocados, and sheriffs say high prices of scrap metal have made agricultural machinery — whether it works or not — an appealing target. Dubious online merchants are selling feed to farmers but never delivering. On the range, wire fences are being clipped to allow interloping herds to poach grazing land.

Most thieves make off with less than a ton of hay — about $200 to $300 worth, depending on the quality. But on Labor Day in Wellington, Colo., thieves hot-wired a front-end loader and stole enough hay from Conrad T. Swanson’s ranch to fill the flatbed trailer of a semi. (source)

In some areas it’s serious enough that a sheriff in Tillman County, Okla., put a GPS-tracking device in a bale in a field particularly prone to thefts. The trick actually worked and the thieves were caught red-handed, but it’s not exactly practical to track all hay bales with GPS, so until then, farmers will have to hope for a more cooperative weather.

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.


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Photo: Bethan/flickr


Ro H.
Ro H5 years ago


Gysele van Santen

wow i never would've thought...

Tim C.
Tim C5 years ago


Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Thanks for all the information.

ali a.
ali a5 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Diana S.
Diana S5 years ago

@Pamela H. I am all for police investing lots of time into investigating violent crimes. However, stealing is not a "crime," it is a CRIME. And farmers work very close to the bone already -- their profits margins are very small in most cases. (And it is only going to get worse as weather becomes more unpredictable and extreme). Whether they need to the hay to sell for cash to operate on or need it to feed their own animals, it is their time and sweat and money that went into growing and harvesting and storing it. It is not up to some lazy, greedy fool to decide that that hay is theirs to walk away with and do as they please. And I doubt you would think it was no big deal if someone walked into your small business in town and walked out with some valuable merchandise in their pockets. The answer is to add more police to fit the volume of crime in a given community, not to stop investigating crimes that have no physical assault involved.

greenplanet e.
greenplanet e5 years ago

Another effect of rising temperature and drought. Climate change will not be pretty, on many levels.

Mark Donners
Mark Donner5 years ago

Yep, I can see there's at least two dogs caught red-handed trying to make off with a bale :)

Doug G.
Doug G5 years ago

I have no doubt the human race has acted as an accelerant to this natural process and I am sure it will not change its behaviors even when the sh*t hits the fan. People behave poorly when times are good, just imagine how they will carry on when the full impact materializes.

Sharon R.
Sharon R5 years ago

While my sympathies are all for the farmer, I can't help but think these are signs of us living in desperate times. Desperate people will do desperate things. Whether stealing dogs (as in another Care2 article) or hay bales, people who need money will steal when desperate.