The growing number of hay thefts in the Southwest may slow as prices look to soften in the year ahead. At least that’s the hope of forage-industry folks in that region.

“It was something we didn’t really have a lot of problems with before,” says Mitch Waters, hay grower and owner of Master Made Feeds, Inc., Grapevine, TX, a feed store in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. “It started when hay prices went sky high last fall. People would come in after we closed at night or before we got here in the morning and just walk off with a bale or two.”

Waters, who grows 200 acres of grass hay, figures thieves took upwards of 50 small square bales from barns and trailers parked behind the store. He installed additional locks on doors and a video surveillance system in his yard area and instructed his night watchman to be more vigilant. While the problem eventually subsided, Waters isn’t sure if that was due to increased security or because mild winter weather took pressure off area hay prices.

Several suppliers also reported bales were stolen out of their fields, he notes. “One of them lost a total of 300 bales. It adds up.”

As harvest starts throughout the region, Waters will take bales off fields and into a secure area as soon as possible after baling. He’s advising suppliers to do the same. “It’s tough enough making a living in this business. You just can’t afford to let someone walk off with your product.”

New Mexico’s Dona Ana County has also experienced an increasing number of hay thefts since last fall.

“It’s always been kind of a problem,” says its sheriff, Todd Garrison. “People more or less just accepted it. But with hay prices going up so high in the last year or so, we’ve been seeing more and more of it going on. Now people are paying attention.”

That parallels an upturn in the theft of other ag products and equipment, he says. “We’re also hearing a lot more about crops like pecans being stolen. And theft of copper wiring and metal from irrigation equipment is a bigger problem, too.

“People are desperate for money,” he says. “They steal something that they can turn around and sell to raise cash.” Or they may be feeding stolen hay to horses or other animals they own.

“We’re encouraging people who can’t take care of their animals the way they’re supposed to be taken care of to give us a call. We’ll try to find them some help. We’d rather work with them in that way than have to prosecute them for theft. There are groups in the area that have funds available.”

Garrison’s main concern: that property owners will get into confrontations with thieves. “We don’t want to see anyone get hurt over something like this. It’s simply not worth it.”

To contact Waters, call 817-481-2321 or email feedanimals@msn.com.