Technology Decreasing Irrigation Copper Thefts

Barbara Kieker

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Amid high copper prices and a lackluster economy, copper thefts are an issue in many cities and rural areas.  In addition to heating and air conditioning units, thieves continue to target copper tubing and wire in center pivot cables in agricultural irrigation systems.  Repairs can cost up to $10,000 for each irrigator hit.

"We are aware of one landowner who has spent over two-thirds of the annual rent income on replacing span wire," said J.C. Reid, Jr., owner of Reid Brothers Irrigation and Equipment Co., LLC in Americus, Ga.  "The insurance company has threatened to not renew their policy."

Reid reports that his business has replaced a total of 44,000 feet of copper wire in the past two years.  Additionally, they have repaired thousands of dollars in damage caused by thieves as they removed the wire.

Some states are introducing legislation aimed at making it more difficult for thieves to sell copper tubing or wiring to scrap dealers.  For example, a copper theft bill was introduced in October in Illinois that would require metal dealers to delay payments for anything with copper tubing or wiring for three business days following a transaction and keep records of all purchases for three years.

Fighting copper thefts on the farm
Agribusiness companies are also designing solutions to address copper theft.  Net Irrigate, a manufacturer of Wireless Agricultural Irrigation Monitoring technology based in Bloomington, Ind., introduced a product in 2011 that alerts owners via phone or text message the instant thieves tamper with a center pivot's span cable.  Called the NetIrrigate® WireRat™, the solution can distinguish between normal operation of the pivot and a potential theft threat, works with all brands of center pivots and requires no external power.

"As more irrigators experience copper theft – either first hand or through community members who have been targeted – the demand for the NetIrrigate® WireRat™ has increased," said Eddie DeSalle, general manager for Net Irrigate.

Beyond a solution like NetIrrigate® WireRat™, farmers have turned to monitoring services to protect their irrigation systems from theft.  Usually delivered through an annual contract, the services detect any status change in irrigation pivots and dispatch authorities when alerted.  Priced less than the WireRat, monitoring services address copper theft only without any additional management options.

Leveraging the possibilities of wireless technology

Wireless communication technology also offers the possibility for remote management options beyond theft detection.  According to Reid, "it's not uncommon for a farmer's fields to be in a 50 to 75 mile radius of his base, meaning fields could be 100 to 150 miles apart.  Monitoring pivot operation is labor and fuel intensive.  Labor and fuel cost will force farmers to adopt some type of technology to reduce these costs."

Reid, a NetIrrigate® WireRat™ dealer, is working to communicate the benefits of its numerous management options to farmers.  DeSalle says the benefits include conserving economic inputs associated with agricultural irrigation.

"NetIrrigate® hardware and software solutions notify irrigators of numerous costly events such as equipment malfunctions leading to overwatering or under watering specific field areas, and center pivot immobilization due to oversaturated field areas," DeSalle continued.  "Our biggest challenge is generating awareness that a solution like Net Irrigate exists for irrigators."

More information on Net Irrigate and NetIrrigate® WireRat™ is available at or call 800-961-9549.

About Barbara Kieker

Barbara Kieker is a freelance writer who writes on business-related topics for a number of web-based properties. She also provides communications services to Fortune 500 corporations, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.