ROCK FALLS – Steve Moore is frustrated.
Over the last several years, thieves have stripped hundreds of feet of copper wiring off his irrigation system in his Star Road field at least five times. In the most recent theft, discovered Jan. 23, the scavengers took 750 feet of copper wiring and damaged his sprinklers.
Moore’s story isn’t unique. Over the last year and a half, deputies have investigated at least a half dozen similar thefts in the southern part of Whiteside County, Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi said.
Deputies have bumped up patrols in rural areas, but haven’t received any tips to lead them to arrests, so Moore and other area farmers have decided to do something about it.
They are offering a $2,500 reward for any tips that lead to an arrest.
They also plan to put up billboards asking the community to be vigilant and, hopefully, to deter the thieves.
“This all started when copper prices went up,” Moore said. “You can only put up with this for so long before we got to put a stop to it.”
The thieves may make a few hundred dollars off the scrap, but farmers are paying thousands of dollars to fix the damage.
Greg Sandrock of Cornerstone Insurance Agency in Tampico said his office gets an average of 30 to 40 claims a year from farmers whose irrigators have been damaged by scrap thieves.
The average claim is around $10,000, of which farmers pay a $1,000 deductible, he said.
It’s not just the money. Farmers can’t water their crops when the irrigators are getting fixed.
“It’s not only frustrating for them, but there’s that loss of time and possible loss of crop value,” Sandrock said.
Wilhelmi encourages residents to call the department if they see anything suspicious, such as lights in farm fields at night.
Anyone with information on the copper thefts can call the Whiteside County Sheriff's Department at 815 772-4044 or Whiteside County Crime Stoppers, the anonymous reward hotline, at 815-625-7867.
Callers are eligible for rewards of up to $1,000 through Crime Stoppers, and $2,500 from the group of farmers, which is working with Crime Stoppers.