Senator: Farm products are property and stealing them is illegal

Agricultural products. (PNC photo)

Senator Clynt Ridgell has introduced two bills to help stop the theft of produce from local farmers.

But the first step is to make the theft of produce illegal in the first place.

Senator Ridgell introduced Bills 62 and 63.

Bill 62 clarifies that agricultural products such as fruits and vegetables grown by farmers are property and that stealing them is illegal.

Many may think it’s strange that taking a farmer’s crops without their permission wouldn’t be considered theft.

Senator Ridgell agrees.

Ridgell believes that agricultural products should be covered by the language of the current law but he was told by farmers that that’s not necessarily the case.

He said farmers have told him that they’ve actually found it difficult to prosecute cases of theft because of the leeway given by the law’s language.

Ridgell said he was asked by both farmers and the Department of Agriculture to write Bill 62 to strengthen the case against those who would steal a farmer’s crops.

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“So just to make it crystal clear, I’ve introduced a bill at the request of farmers and the Department of Agriculture, working closely with the Department of Agriculture and farmers..they’ve all identified this as a need. They think this will strengthen it, make it crystal clear that produce..agricultural produce…is considered property..and also send a message to people that this is serious. That it is property, and if you steal produce, you could go to jail for it,” Ridgell said.

Bill 63 would create a registry for local farmers.

Local farmers who wish to sell their produce — whether to the government, businesses, or the general public — would need to get registered.

Ridgell said a registry would serve multiple purposes.

One purpose would be to help reduce theft.

Ridgell said that many people who steal produce try to turn around and sell it.

To prevent this, farmers have taken measures such as staking out their own farms to catch thieves red-handed or marking their produce in a manner similar to branding cattle.

A registry would help ensure that farmers selling produce are legitimate.

Also, the registry would ensure that farmers are abiding by existing laws pertaining to health, safety, and quality of produce.

That would also make it easier for businesses and government agencies to buy from them.

There are currently laws on the books that require government agencies to try and buy produce locally first before looking elsewhere.

“So really, the Department of Agriculture should be able to help now, better facilitate this …as sort of the intermediary between the farmers and the government agencies. The Department of Agriculture can go to the government agencies and say, here’s a list of bona fide farmers, let’s work out a plan here to start purchasing as much produce as possible from the local bona fide farmers,” Ridgell said.