Soaring Grain Prices Prompt Wheat Thefts

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Wheat has become such a hot commodity that it has been stolen by the truckload in western Kansas.

Wheat has become such a hot commodity that it has been stolen by the truckload in western Kansas. Greg Wood/AFP/Getty hide caption

toggle caption Greg Wood/AFP/Getty

Across the Midwest, farmers are benefiting from the recent run-up in commodity prices.

The price of corn has doubled in the last year. Soybeans are up more than 50 percent, and wheat is trading at three times what it was two years ago.

But this boom has also brought problems to the prairie.

In western Kansas police are investigating almost a dozen incidents where thieves using tractor trailers stole wheat from grain elevators.

The thieves hit at least four grain elevators near the western Kansas town of Syracuse and made off with more than $50,000 worth of raw wheat.

Lucrative Crime

Terry Bertholf, attorney for insurer Kansas Farmers Service Association, said wheat elevators are often unmanned at this time of year. He said the thieves knew how to operate the augers to offload the grain, and then they drove the wheat to other grain elevators in the area and resold it.

"We don't even know for sure that the $50,000 is all that was taken," he said. "We may never know."

Bertholf said large-scale wheat thefts like the ones being investigated now are unheard of in western Kansas. In the past, there were occasionally problems with someone stealing a few bushels, but it never involved using tractor trailer rigs, he said.

Now, with a tractor trailer load of wheat fetching as much as $5,000, this crime is far more lucrative. Just last year wheat was selling at $3 a bushel, but now it's selling at $10 a bushel and is harder to come by.

"Most of the grain has been milled into bread, which is part of the reason the price is so high. Plus, less wheat is being produced because acres are being diverted to corn for ethanol and livestock," Bertholf said.

Security Lags

When prices for any commodity rise rapidly, whether it's wheat or scrap metal, security measures often lag behind.

Danielle Rau, with the California Farm Bureau Federation, said the same thing happened in her state when almond prices hit a record high.

"Last year, we had a huge problem — when the price of almonds was as high as it was — of thieves coming in and stealing entire tractor trailer loads of almonds totaling $250,000 a piece, and these guys were stealing them right out of the yard," Rau said.

Investigators discovered that the thieves were trucking the nuts to Canada and selling them.

Police still haven't made any arrests in the wheat thefts and are urging grain elevator operators to step up security measures at the hundreds of silos that dot this part of the Great Plains.



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