Manitoba farmer who had $40K of canola stolen fears grain thefts may become more common

A Manitoba farmer is warning other producers to be on guard after he says $40,000 worth of canola was stolen from his farm.

Les Wedderburn, who runs a farm with his brother in the RM of Alexander near Rivers, Man., said he was checking grain bins one day during the winter when he discovered someone had stolen between 1,500 and 1,600 bushels of canola from one of the bins.

“The canola went missing in the night is what it looks like, so the people that did it scouted it out and came and did the job,” he said on Thursday, adding he believes the canola was stolen about a month earlier.

Wedderburn estimates $40,000 worth of canola was stolen from the farm.

“It’s a bit of a kick in the pants. You know, you work all year, and that is like taking somebody’s full wages away for the year,” he said.

“It makes you feel a little sick to think that you go to a lot of work for nothing and somebody can just drive into your yard and take something and hope they get away with it. I really, really hope that doesn’t happen.”

The Rivers Police Service confirmed it is investigating the alleged theft, however there are challenges in the investigation.

“As the theft occurred in an isolated, rural area, there are no known witnesses to the event. Neighbourhood inquiries have been made by police, but no evidence has been gleaned from this,” Rivers police said in a statement to CTV News.

“Given the absence of witnesses, CCTV systems, forensic evidence and/or witnesses this matter is quite challenging.”

Wedderburn said he is passing along any information he receives to police, and is warning other farmers to be on the lookout.

“I just think farmers don’t realize how vulnerable they are to this. We’d be the first to admit that we didn’t know we were that vulnerable until it happened,” he said. “I hope people keep their eyes open.”

This is the first time Wedderburn has had canola stolen from his farm, and he is now taking precautions to ensure it doesn’t happen again. He has installed cameras connected to his phone, and is now using a product called Crop Guard – confetti-like product that is put in the grain with a unique serial number registered to the farmer.

“It’s kind of like closing the gate after the horse got out, but I’ll have it ready from now on,” he said.

Wedderburn said he is concerned this type of theft will become more common due to the high cost of fuel and fertilizer, along with high commodity prices for grain.

“There are a lot of people with their back to the wall,” he said, adding there will be more challenges for farmers in the upcoming year. “I think that maybe there’s some people that do some stupid things that wouldn’t normally do them. But when their back’s to the wall, they take those chances.”

Manitoba RCMP said it has received one other report of grain theft. They said in March, a farmer in the RM of Argyle reported that about 2,000 bushels of wheat was stolen from a grain bin stored on his property in mid-August of 2021.

Rivers police said they are continuing to work with Wedderburn and the RCMP to solve the crime, and prevent similar thefts from happening in the future.

Anyone who witnesses suspicious activity is being asked to call their local police service or Manitoba Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or submit a tip online.

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