Guam farmers testify in favor of Bill 62

(PNC graphic by Ricky De Guzman)

Tired of losing crops, livestock, and profit from farm theft, Guam’s farmers spoke out during Thursday morning’s public hearing at the legislature for a bill that firms up penalties for this type of crime.

Farmers have been increasingly plagued by the theft of produce; however, theft of produce is technically not illegal according to Guam law.

Senator Clynt Ridgell, who authored Bill 62, says it was introduced in an effort to bring all the stakeholders together to fix this long-standing issue.

He heard stories of farmers being forced to brand their produce and staking out farms overnight to catch thieves.

He also heard about challenges in the enforcement of current laws covering these incidents and the bill wants to address that.

Bill 62 ensures that agricultural products are considered property in Guam’s theft laws. It also mandates that farmers who are victims of agricultural theft must be reimbursed by the defendant after conviction.

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“I wanted to end debate and make sure that this is absolutely clear … the bill amends the section of the law on property. This definition of property means anything of value and so most people say that should include crops,” Ridgell said.

During the hearing, members of the northern and southern soil and water conservation districts and registered farmers on island expressed frustration over the incidents of agricultural theft.

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Former senator Hope Cristobal, the chairwoman of the Northern Guam Soil and Water Conservation District, said: “Some of us are at a point of no return…we are aging…we are an aging group…I believe the average farmer today is over 60 years old…and you know it is very disheartening because what it does is it really affects our hopes of trying to bring farming to the younger generations.”

Erica Pangelinan of the Guam Soil and Water Conservation District said: “We recognize farm theft robs our farmers of their financial well-being and heavily impacts their agricultural operations. It is a disincentive to our farmers as well as to those who aspire to become farmers and threatens the growth of agricultural production on our island.”

A suggestion to move enforcement from GPD and place it under the purview of the Department of Agriculture was met with support from the group. Bill McDonald, a longtime farmer, proposed the idea.