BRITISH COLUMBIA

Richmond, B.C. Farmers Losing Potatoes To Thieves

08/30/2012 01:11 EDT | Updated 10/30/2012 05:12 EDT
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RICHMOND, B.C. - Talk about a hot potato!

Standing in the middle of one of his dusty fields, half-exposed potatoes poking out, farmer Bill Zylmans wonders why anyone would steal so much of his crop.

"God knows," he muttered.

If only these spuds could talk.

Then they would be able to help police deduce who pilfered 2,300 kilograms of potatoes right out of Zylmans' field.

"They're not digging down, they're basically pulling up the plant, taking what's on the plant and away they go," said a disappointed Zylmans.

"Today the (plants) have matured and died off, but at that time (they were stolen) they destroyed basically the future growth of any of the fruits of the plant."

Overturned dirt and dried-out patches of topsoil are evidence of the theft in all three of Zylmans' potato fields.

If you add the patches together they would be about the size of a football field and hold about $3,000 worth of Yukon gold and chieftain potatoes, Zylmans said.

The theft of blueberries, strawberries or even pumpkins is nothing new for farmers, but Zylmans said the amount of spuds taken suggests the theft was for commercial purposes.

"It almost seems just too much for someone to just take for a family," he said.

Because potatoes are a controlled commodity, Zylmans said it isn't likely someone would have arrived at a supermarket looking to sell them.

But, he speculated the potato perpetrators could be marketing them in bags, going door to door or some other way.

The area where most of the potatoes were taken lies on the edge of a forest, giving the thieves cover for what Zylmans said must have been at least a couple of hours of hard work, depending on the size of the group.

Richmond RCMP Sgt. Cam Kowalski said the crime boggles his mind.

"5,000 pounds of potatoes, what are you going to make with that, other than french fries and vodka?" Kowalski queried.

He said the potatoes were likely taken by a group of people using shovels who would have to have planned the theft, but that's about all police know.

"We don't have any leads on this," he said. "If anyone does we'd be certainly happy to talk to them."

Kowalski said crop theft is common, but the size of this one has caused Mounties to step up ATV patrols in the area with the hopes of discouraging, if not outright catching, the bandits.

Zylmans added that consuming stolen crops could be harmful to people eating them if the crops have been recently sprayed with chemicals.

The farmer, who has a total of two-square-kilometres of farmland, said he has watched from a distance as people steal crops from his fields.

He said they have bounded into his fields with garbage bags and grabbed handfuls of fruits or vegetables in a type of hit-and-run approach.

Up until now, he said he always considered it a cost of doing business.

But those days are gone.

"We're not going to tolerate this anymore, the RCMP is now involved, we're going to be watching out for them," said the fed up farmer.

"This is someone's livelihood you're stealing."