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Take your keys

Simple steps deter vehicle and equipment thefts.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

May 31, 2023

3 Min Read
Semi being loaded with grain
REMOVE TEMPTATION: A semi loaded with grain can be tempting for a ne’er-do-well seeking to make a quick buck, but farmers can prevent a costly error by simply removing the keys from the semi — and all vehicles — when parked unattended on a farm.Kevin Schulz

It sounds like such a simple solution: Take your keys to prevent vehicle thefts.

More than 16,000 cars were stolen in Minnesota in 2022, representing over $200 million in losses to victims. The majority of those thefts occur in the seven-country metro area, and Joe Boche, special agent for the Minnesota Department of Commerce Fraud Bureau, says six of 10 of those thefts occur when keys are left in the vehicles.

Though the “sheer number of auto thefts in rural Minnesota is way, way smaller than in the seven-county metro area,” Boche says, “that doesn’t matter when it’s your car that’s stolen.” Boche says the metro count of six of 10 stolen vehicles when keys are left in, increases to 90% of rural stolen vehicles with keys left inside.

Boche experienced firsthand that trend as he started his law enforcement career in Lake Crystal, Minn., in Blue Earth County. “It was not that uncommon at all. People [in rural areas] just have a different attitude that ‘Everyone leaves their keys in their cars,’ and they don’t think about it.”

He admits thefts of vehicles with keys left inside may not always be reported due to embarrassment by the owner. Being rural may present a false sense of security, since unlike in an urban area or even a town, there are not people merely walking by and looking through a vehicle’s window.

Vehicle theft by convenience may occur in rural areas, where Boche says criminals may use a stolen car to steal yet another car or commit another crime. “That can happen on a farm where a vehicle may be parked nowhere near the homestead, or maybe it’s parked on another side of a barn or a building and it could be gone a couple days before anybody realizes it’s missing.”

To raise awareness of the issue, the Department of Commerce Fraud Bureau launched the Take Your Keys Always campaign intended to help put a dent in the surge in auto thefts.

Four simple steps are encouraged to thwart vehicle thefts:

  1. Take your keys when you park your car.

  2. Make sure the doors and windows are locked.

  3. Never leave a car running unattended.

  4. Don’t leave valuables in your vehicle.

These are among the steps that producers and residents in general can take to deter those thefts that will help them hold onto their property.

Attention on equipment

As part of his job with the state commerce department fraud bureau, Boche helps produce an annual conference for the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators, and he has requests by fellow investigators from rural states to offer classes on deterring theft of farm equipment and heavy equipment.

“How often does it happen? I’m unaware of any cases of large equipment being stolen in Minnesota, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened,” he says. The logistics of stealing a large tractor or combine may prove difficult to pull off, but smaller equipment is different. “Now skid steers and trailers — those get stolen like hotcakes.”

Thefts of skid steers and other farm equipment may be harder to trace when compared to tracking passenger vehicles, merely due to the lack of license plates. “There are vehicle identification numbers, but it’s not like somebody’s going to come around looking for it,” he says.

Having worked some of skid-steer theft cases, he says the most common way of them being discovered is when the innocent buyer either knew they were getting too good of a deal or “when they break down, and they call up Caterpillar or John Deere or Bobcat and when they give the serial number, they have a database, and the unit comes back as being stolen.”

Boche also alerts farmers to grain theft via stolen trucks. With the price of grains, a loaded trailer could just as well be loaded with greenbacks. “When you fill up at night and plan to haul it in the next morning, did you leave the keys in there?” he asks. “Because it might be if they can steal that semi, they’re not as interested in the semi. That’s just the mechanism for them to cash in.”

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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