Dealing with the threat of intentional harm to farm property

By Peggy Kirk Hall, director of agricultural law, Ohio State University Agricultural and Resource Law Program

Whether from trespassers, thieves, vandals, disgruntled employees, drug makers, activists, or extremists, farm security threats are a risk farmers face. Unfortunately, current social and political conditions have added new dimensions to that risk. Intruders can harm property in many ways: releasing or injuring livestock, stealing anhydrous or chemicals, destroying crops, contaminating water, introducing disease, setting fires, or committing other acts of theft, vandalism or destruction.

Recent suspicious activities on Ohio farms have reminded us of the need for constant awareness of farm security and intentional harms to farm property. Our newest publication, Intentional Harm to Farm Property: Legal Options and Strategies for Farm Owners aims to meet this need by addressing the following.

What to do when a farm security issue occurs

Three immediate actions can be helpful to ensuring a clear-headed reaction to an incident:

  • Call local law enforcement.
  • Secure the property and preserve the evidence.
  • Contact insurance provider.

Options for legal action

How can a farmer address a security incident through the legal system? Local law enforcement might pursue a criminal action, a farm owner might choose to file a civil action, or both criminal and civil actions could take place. Conferring with law enforcement and an attorney will help determine an appropriate course of action. The bulletin explains common criminal actions that might apply to a farm security episode, such as:

  • Agricultural product or equipment terrorism
  • Animal or ecological terrorism based on corrupt activity
  • Arson
  • Aggravated arson
  • Breaking and entering
  • Criminal damaging or endangering
  • Criminal mischief
  • Criminal trespass
  • Injuring animals
  • Poisoning animals
  • Reckless destruction of crops or timber
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Attempt, complicity and conspiracy regarding any of the above crimes

We also review laws that provide for civil actions against someone who intentionally harms farm property, such as:

  • Civil action for damages for criminal act
  • Civil theft and willful damage
  • Civil trespass to personal property, such as animals and equipment
  • Civil trespass to real property
  • Civil vandalism
  • Civil action for animal or ecological terrorism
  • Destruction of crops or timber

Preventing the risk of farm security occurrences

Farmers can adopt practices that reduce the possibility of intruders and incidents of intentional harm to farm property. We list a dozen strategies in the bulletin that may be helpful, such as marking, posting and security property boundaries, maintaining a record of suspicious activities, vetting employees, and conferring with a security professional.

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