Irrigation pivot cable foils copper thieves

Published online: Sep 17, 2013
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Irrigators vulnerable to copper theft have a new tool to help foil the bad guys.

With copper at $3 a pound, sometimes thieves are unable to overcome the temptation to steal irrigation span cables, the lines that run the length of pivot arms providing electric power and control to machinery. However a company is offering cable that's wrapped in bright yellow insulation, and contains an integrated narrow strip of printed tape.

"There's a unique ID printed on a tape inside the jacket of the cable," said John Rasmus, with Valley Irrigation, during an interview with Brownfield Ag News at Husker Harvest Days. "And that ID is actually logged in a data base, and that ID is traceable to a specific owner."

The thefts are costly enough considering only the price of the span cable, said Julie Bushell, with Paige Electric, the company that manufactures the cable, but she says there's more to consider in the event of thieves making off with span cable, disabling the irrigation system.

"During a severe drought, you would have a pivot that was down maybe three or four days before the dealer could get out there, put new span on and get that pivot going again," Bushell told Brownfield. "In three days in a severe drought, you could lose your entire crop."

When thieves try to sell the identified cable to recyclers, the integrated tape, which also displays the web link to the database, not only identifies the owner, but also provides evidence that has already put criminals behind bars.

The company is part of a larger industry group that is also lobbying states to enact legislation making it illegal to purchase scrap copper cable from which the insulation, and with it any identifying tape, has been burned. According to Bushell, 29 states already have passed such legislation.