Calibration monitors missing, antennas gone and wires cut.
Folks at a Central Illinois Ag store near Clinton, Ill., saw this scene one morning when sending out equipment for the field demonstrations at the 2021 Farm Progress Show.
“A Degelman representative showed up to take a tractor to the show and came in looking for the autoguidance monitor and antenna. Staff had calibrated the tractor the day before and left the equipment in the tractor,” says Michael Schmidt, president of Central Illinois Ag, headquartered near Atlanta, Ill. “So, they went to check it out and found snipped wires and no autoguidance parts.”
But it wasn’t just one tractor, and it wasn’t just one Central Illinois Ag store.
Across the entire lot in Clinton, there were eight pieces of machinery with stolen antennas and monitors, Schmidt says. Around the same time, Schmidt was preparing equipment for customers and discovered four tractors and five combines at the Atlanta store with monitors and antennas that had been stolen.
And he says this same scenario is happening across Illinois at other equipment dealers such as Bane- Welker and AHW LLC.
So, who and what is at the root of the recent precision equipment theft? While no one knows for sure, Schmidt says profit is a likely cause, and other agriculturists could be a source.
“It’s a quick way for these people to make a buck. If you stole a monitor and antenna and took it over to an equipment auction, there would really be no questions asked,” Schmidt says. “But the amount of autoguidance units stolen is too much for one guy to pawn off.”
He adds that the computer chip shortage may also be a cause for theft. People could be taking the chips out of the parts to be shipped and sold overseas.
But Schmidt acknowledges they don’t know for sure where the parts are going. Even though precision equipment uses computer chips, the pieces cannot be tracked or located. However, stolen monitors and antennas can be disabled to stop anyone from using them by using systems such as AFS Connect from Case IH.
But what else can farmers do? Keep equipment secure, beyond locking it up at night.
“The problem with farm machinery in any color and location is we’re not the most fenced-in, locked-up places,” Schmidt says. “There’s not a lot of security even built into the machine.”
Schmidt has customers who unplug their precision equipment each night, store it away in a safe place, then bring it back and plug it in the next day to prevent precision equipment theft.
“Is unplugging this technology every night necessary? I don’t know,” he says. “But it would be very easy for people to drive around the countryside, see a combine or tractor, and drive out there to steal the parts.”