About two million farms exist in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Working on those two million farms are about 960,000 people who claim farming as their principal occupation.
Farms, inherently due to their rural locations and large amounts of land, are constantly at a security risk. Irrigation equipment, tractors and chemicals are a few examples of equipment on farms that are particularly vulnerable to theft, says Tony Alameda, a co-owner of the family-owned Top Flavor Farms, which produces vegetables. Alameda’s farms grow more than 6,000 acres of vegetables each year throughout California and Arizona.
Alameda uses GPS trackers on his heavy equipment in the case of theft, as one tractor can cost $100,000 to $250,000 each. “We’re also very vulnerable to chemical theft,” says Alameda, adding that some expensive chemicals can cost upwards of $2,000 per jug. “It’s an easy target that is taken and sold to a black market,” he adds. Alameda says he is considering putting video surveillance on all of their property.
Aside from GPS tracking, Alameda and his family are sure to include remote monitoring on the farm buildings at the very least. “Our shops are monitored by a security firm. Every building has to have alarms and a monitored alarm,” he says. And while his smoke and alarm systems typically end up in false alarm, it’s worth protecting the expensive equipment that can mean a significant loss if compromised.
Security professionals that have installed security or fire systems for farms and rural areas agree on one thing, the market is very diverse as far as what customers can afford, what they are trying to protect, and what their security needs are.
“All farms, based on the type of farm, have special needs,” says Mike Bunch, branch manager for the Springfield, Ill., office of F.E. Moran, a company that ranks as No. 58 on the SDM 100. Pork and dairy farmers, for example, must pay a lot of attention to temperature control, he says. Such farmers risk losing a lot of money if the temperature falls below the acceptable temperature for their meat or milk that day.
Bunch says one example of this is hog or livestock farmers. “They need to monitor temperatures so that [the livestock] doesn’t overheat,” he says. And this is particularly important in a farm environment due to the unpredictability of the elements.
“Most farm areas are harsh environments. There are harsh temperatures, corrosives, and high-moisture areas,” Bunch explains. He adds that often, F.E. Moran overcomes the humidity and temperature obstacles with special enclosures for security equipment and wiring. In addition, he adds, depending on the budget of the farmer, day/night vision surveillance can be helpful in an environment that has little city light and makes for an extremely low-light application.
Location is another factor that enters into farm security, notes Don Smith, group vice president of sales and operations at Alert Alarm Hawaii, Honolulu. Farm buildings and rural land often do not have phone lines (aside from the farmhouse), making a traditional POTS line security system out of the range of options. “There is power in the buildings typically, however,” says Scot Colby, president of Bayou Security, Shreveport, La.
Standard motion detection and window contacts don’t fit the bill, as barns and buildings on the rural land deal with harsh environments that can lend themselves to too many false alarms. Strong winds and motion of livestock are two reasons why traditional equipment would render itself close to useless in a barn situation.
Bunch at F.E. Moran recommends to his customers, beams or motion detectors that are environmentally regulated with heaters built in and can withstand water, heat and cold and still be effective. “Those are great,” he says.
Motion or beam detection can come in handy for farmers with remote fueling stations, Bunch explains. “If someone goes to steal fuel, the camera could start recording at the sight of motion and monitor who is using the fuel pump.”
Bayou Security often puts gate contacts on the top and bottom of barns doors, as well as a gate cord for some situations, Colby says. A security system is installed with radio or cellular communications.
Daily tests are necessary, says Colby, as the large plots of land typical on farms means a customer might not notice for a week or more if communication is down with their security system.
In addition, Colby says, gate contacts are more efficient in the farm environment because of the nature of the application. “Gate contacts can be opened an inch or two wider than a regular door contact,” he explains. “[Farms] have to have wide gap equipment so it won’t set off the alarm from just the door shaking. If you had a regular door contact on a stable and a horse bangs the door, you would get an alarm,” Colby explains.
“If you use a gate contact with three inches of play, you would bang the door pretty good before you got an alarm out of it,” he says. This reduces the frequency of false alarms as harsh winds or the kick of an animal will not normally set off an event.
A gate cord, Colby says, is particularly nice for certain applications as it allows the door or stall to be opened even wider than the gate contact. When the cord becomes unplugged, you get an alarm signal.
Smith of Alert Alarm Hawaii has provided beam detectors for many of his company’s farm and rural area customers. More than a decade ago, Smith recalls a project that involved a government-owned farm.
“The area had to be secured. Primarily, we put photo beams around the perimeter that were extensive enough to keep someone from coming in,” he recalls.
Security equipment aside, farmers still face an uphill battle inherent in the location. “Most commonly, we have a guy out and about the ranch and farm and driving around with headlights showing,” says vegetable grower Alameda. In his experience, a live person on the land often serves as the best deterrent.
Smith agrees. “The biggest challenge to my mind is response to rural areas. [In some parts of Hawaii] we could get a signal and call the police and it might be hours before a response,” Smith explains.
Depending on the landowner’s budget and security risk, a combination of live patrol and security equipment could mean a return of investment in no time.