As recent reports of hay thefts make headlines around the country, growers and livestock producers may want to consider installing low-cost, game-trail cameras in their hay-storage areas, says Brian Waddingham, executive director of the Coalition To Support Iowa’s Farmers.

A fairly basic unit would set you back around $150. A more sophisticated unit – i.e., a camera combined with a motion-detection light – would cost around $300. Several soybean and hog operations in Iowa installed camera-lighting systems after an increase in theft reports last year, Waddingham says. “Thieves will notice the light going on, but they don’t realize they might be on camera, too,” he says.

Pictures captured by these kinds of cameras can be very helpful to law enforcement officials investigating theft cases, says Larry Hand, a special ranger with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

“You might get a full look at the faces of the people involved, a license plate number on the vehicle they’re using to transport the hay, or some kind of identifying image.”

If opting to go this route, Hand says, be sure to conceal the camera. “You don’t want thieves taking off with your hay and the camera.”

Waddingham’s organization received several reports last fall from victimized hay growers in Iowa. “Most of the thefts were of a few small square bales taken at a time,” he says. “But we also had reports of whole trailer loads of large round bales being taken.”

The theft reports tapered off after a major snowstorm swept through the state in mid-December. “Most of the stealing was going on in places where farmers had stacked their hay in remote fields next to a road. It was pretty easy for people to pull up in the middle of the night and make off with the hay. The snow we had seemed to put a stop to that. Our concern now is that,  when the snow goes away, this kind of activity will pick up again.”