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Development managers give advice

February 2023


Be prepared and curb crop theft

Although the extent of agricultural produce theft is very difficult to quantify, these crimes have a profound impact on farmers’ sustainability and profitability. In addition to rising input costs, farmers are forced to spend vast sums of money on security measures – something that few can afford.

The weak economy and rising unemployment have seen an increase in crime and the agricultural sector has not escaped this. According to Free State Agriculture (FSA), maize theft is now being committed by profit-driven organised crime syndicates. Although there are ‘crimes of need’, where individuals steal to feed their families, it is the ‘crimes of greed’ that are a serious concern. 

A few Grain SA regional development managers offer advice on how to combat crime and keep your crops safe:

Make the right choice: In the areas serviced by Jerry Mthombothi, Grain SA’s regional development manager at the Mbombela office, mostly sugar beans and groundnuts are stolen. There are however areas where the theft of maize cobs is increasing. He advises farmers to avoid planting crops that can be easily processed or cooked – such as groundnuts, sugar beans and green mealies – near villages or residential sites. 

The right time: Du Toit van der Westhuizen, Grain SA’s regional development manager in North West, says one must be careful of having your seed and other inputs delivered too early. A commercial farmer in North West lost seed to the value of R1,2 million in early in November before he could even start planting. 

Private movements: Visiting the fields during the harvesting season is extremely important. Johan Kriel, the regional development manager in the Free State, cautions farmers not to stick to the same daily routine. While moving around on the farm, do an assessment and see if there is anything that may be a potential crime target – try to make your farm more secure.

Fence it: Ensure that boundaries surrounding the farm are secure and well-maintained. If possible, fence off areas that are not secured – like where you have planted your crop, so that people do not have easy access to the produce. Graeme Engelbrecht from Grain SA’s Dundee office, urges farmers to fence their plots. If possible, erect an electric fence for extra protection. 

Be on guard: ‘Farmers should stand together and take shifts to patrol the fields during the harvesting season, when theft increases,’ says Jerry. Having a good relationship with your neighbour means you can join forces to guard the crops and help each other when one is away. The alternative is to hire a security company to guard your crops, especially during the night when you and the farm workers are resting, but is a bit more costly.

Caring community: Good neighbourliness is vital. You can’t be on the farm at all times. Having neighbours who will let you know if they see anything suspicious and for who you would do the same, means another layer of protection. Take care of your farm workers, as they could become your first line of defence. 

Keep strangers at bay: Make sure you know who is on the farm. If someone seems out of place, take note of their physical appearance and their vehicle. Make a note of their licence plate number as well.


  • Use tamper-resistant locks to limit access to storage areas and control possession of the keys. 
  • Consider getting alarm systems in your storage facilities or if you already have them, check regularly that they are in working order. ‘If you can’t afford an alarm system, geese are a good idea as they make a lot of noise when strangers approach,’ says Du Toit. 
  • If your budget allows for more expensive protective measures such as cameras, have them installed very high and out of reach of everyone. 
  • Graeme says that drones being flown at harvest time over maize fields have become an effective deterrent – for those who can afford them! 
  • Invest in a good lighting system for around the farm, where it’s possible to do so. Many criminals attempt to rob areas at night, when the visibility is poorer, so having proper lighting makes it less attractive as a target.

Ensure that harvested maize is not unnecessarily stored overnight or left in trucks on the fields. Weigh the loads before the trucks leave the farm to ensure that the right load is deposited at the silo.

Graeme says a new issue is raising its head – truck or load theft. It is therefore very important to be vigilant when loads leave the farm. Make sure you know where vehicles are heading.

‘It is a good idea to have your own signed delivery book for loads leaving the farm,’ says Graeme. ‘A 30-ton load of soya is worth more than R250 000. If this was cash you were sending, what measures would be considered adequate? There are farmers who have roving security along their routes at harvest time. You can also use GPS loggers to plot the load and check if any unnecessary stops are being made.’  

Publication: February 2023

Section: Pula/Imvula