Farmer tells cost of copper theft

SCOTT COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - It's a growing problem, people stealing copper from farmers' land.

Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter says the department arrested 3 men for stealing copper from a local farmer.

Mathew Bristow, 26, is charged with a felony of stealing, and has a bond of $10,000.

Jeffery Bunch Jr., 23, is charged with a felony of stealing, resisting arrest, leaving the scene of an accident, and property damage, and has a bond of $25,000.

Michael Gunter, 20, is charged with a felony of stealing, with a bond of $15,000.

Bruce Ray is the victim of this Scott County copper theft. He says when people steal copper it's frustrating, and very expensive.

"Farm theft is really a big deal, it's really costly," said Ray.

Three men are accused of stealing copper from Ray's pivot irrigation system, he says close to 1,200 feet.

"Oh yeah it won't move out of its tracks now 'till $6,500 is spent on it," said Ray.

But Ray says that isn't the only cost. He says they've been hit four times in the past two years, causing losses of more than $20,000.

"It takes a lot of your profit out at the end of the year," said Ray.

He says those losses can double when they affect the crops.

"During the summer season a lot of times it will double the value of the loss because you can't get your water on and your crop suffers from it," said Ray.

Sheriff Walter says they recognize the problems for farmers, and have increased their patrolling.

"One thing I've asked my guys to do is find out where every irrigation rig is in Scott County, try to make trips by there as much as possible," said Walter.

Walter says the thefts can be hard to catch, for a number of reasons.

"This time of year the farmers are not out checking on the rigs everyday, so there's sometimes it may go several months and we may not even know," said Walter.

"They'll take it somewhere and burn the rubber off it where they've just got the bare copper which makes it almost unidentifiable," said Ray.

Walter encourages people to watch out for fellow neighbors and farmers.

"These farmers know each other they know who's, you know they recognize their vehicles they don't think somebody belongs there they'll call us," said Walter.

"Kinda keep an eye on it and call it in kind of does help a lot," said Ray.

Help that Ray hopes will prevent losses for farmers in the future.

"We're hoping maybe after this deal, the next person will think about it a little more," said Ray.

He says while it's a major loss to farmers, the people stealing and selling the copper don't see that much of a profit.

"It's really an expensive deal for us, it doesn't net much money for the thieves themselves," said Ray.

He says while it costs them thousands of dollars, the thieves only make a couple hundred bucks.

Walter said one of the men bonded out Wednesday afternoon.

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