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Recent agriculture theft leaves vineyard dry

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Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 6:53 am, Tue Jul 12, 2011.

More than a dozen acres of Frank Rashid’s Petite Syrah grapes could shrivel in the sun this week. Because thieves ripped off a system that keeps his irrigation lines running debris-free, Rashid now has no way of getting water to his West Lane vineyard.

“I have a lot of fruit on the vines and it looks like a promising season,” he said. “If we can’t fix it fast, we are in trouble.”

The system works by filtering sand, rocks and debris from the groundwater before it is pressurized and injected into the drip-irrigation system snaking through the vineyard. Technically Rashid could still turn the pumps on and operate his lines, but they would rapidly become choked with mud and stone and require replacement. The bandits made off with two stainless steel tanks that hold debris, along with the control system and its copper wiring. All stolen items can be taken to a recycling center and exchanged for cash, he said.

“I don’t know why they’d steal the tanks,” he said. “They’re just filled with sand and stones.”

Late Friday evening or early Saturday morning, an unknown number of subjects used Rashid’s service road before cutting, grabbing and breaking the intricate filter system and hauling it away. They snapped limbs from a fig tree next to the system and damaged a few vines during their heist. By the time his son came across the scene Sunday morning, only gnarled wires, some tire tracks and snapped pieces of plastic and metal remained. The theft hits Rashid twice, because he could lose his crops and he has to pay to replace his system, said Ed Martin, operations manager for Lodi Irrigation and Pump.

“The people who did this may get $100 or so from the haul, but it’s going to cost him $1,200 to replace just one filtration tank,” Martin said.

Rashid was on the phone with the company for most of Monday morning as he assessed costs and options. In the best-case scenario, Rashid could have a new system up and running as early as Wednesday, Martin said. The entire system would likely cost more than $10,000 to replace, he said.

Rashid waters his vineyards daily or every other day and said he would start being in serious trouble if he went six days without water.

The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department took a report of the incident, but could make no specific comments about the investigation at this point, said Sgt. Mike Jones.

County ordinance 7-1160 requires junk dealers and recyclers to notify the Sheriff’s Department of the sale or purchase, or attempted sale or purchase, of any item appearing to be stolen or used only by governments, railroads, agriculture or utilities.

Commonly, thefts of recyclable materials from agricultural lands are committed by people from out of the area and taken to recycling centers in surrounding regions, he said. The department coordinated with several other law enforcement agencies in June to make a series of arrests of alleged scrap thieves. As many as 19 cases in San Joaquin County could be linked to the arrests, Jones said.

Although Martin said his company has been replacing stolen brass fittings with plastic ones and seen “weekly” thefts of copper wires in the area, it’s the first time in several years he’s heard anything about the large stainless steel tanks stolen.

Martin estimated that it probably took a few people 30 minutes to cut the necessary links and put the tanks in the back of a pickup truck or attached trailer before driving away unnoticed.

“Each tank weighs about 400 pounds because it has sand and gravel in it, but a few people could lean it on a tailgate and slide it in,” he said.

Despite being tucked away in the vineyard, the pump was easily accessible to potential thieves, Rashid said. While he won’t put a gate on the service road for his property, he will fence his new system in once it is installed to hopefully ward off another theft.

He is also offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible or recovery of the system, he said.

The risk of Rashid losing his crop is significant if swift action isn’t taken, Martin said, but there is a reason to look on the bright side.

“At least this didn’t happen last week,” he said, referring to the string of days with triple-digit temperatures.

Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at jordang@lodinews.com.

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  • phillip montgomery posted at 10:15 am on Wed, Jul 13, 2011.

    phillip montgomery Posts: 8

    Wow! A story about a man who had his equipment stolen and the potential ruin it may cause his business and Doug turns it into a blog on the evils of effeceint water use and alcohol abuse. Doug, your disregard for common decency and the law is repugnant. You need to go back to Mexico with the rest of your illegal in-laws, then maybe you will appreciate the good ol' USA. As for alcohol, I am glad that after ruining you life due to your weak will and inability to cope with moderate consumption you have turned into a neo-prohibitionist. Take your hypocritical BS and move to a dry county if you hate it so much, believe me you won't be missed. PS: How is the gang task force coming along? There hasn't been a Mexican gang shooting in Lodi in what...the last 15 minutes or so? Real successful, can you mentor me too? Please!

  • Doug Chaney posted at 9:31 pm on Tue, Jul 12, 2011.

    Doug Chaney Posts: 1232

    Darrell, these are probably the new breed of Lodi grape growers. Water seems to be in abundance to them and many waste thinking that more water in less quantities makes a better product, when it's the pesticides and herbicides that really give you the wino buzz, not the fruit's juice. Why is the alcohol content boosted to 14% or so if these Lodi grapes are so good? I don't see any other purpose for drinking something so disgusting and bitter except to get that feeling of exhiliration and power and to get plain buzzed and brave.

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 2:47 pm on Tue, Jul 12, 2011.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    Phillip stated...To risk somebody’s entire business so they could profit a few hundred bucks is beyond selfish, if they are actually ever caught I hope our beloved district attorney throws the book at them.

    Phillip, hopefully these thieves will get what is coming to them, I agree it was very selfish. Life is hard enough without having to deal with these kind of things.

    The only reason I questioned the water frequency is from my experience. I have 50 vines on my land and have them on drip. I only water them 1 time per 10 days unless it is 100+ temperature.
    My neighbor with 20 acres of muscats (on drip) I think waters every 7-10 days and gets great crops.
    I was just surprised as my grapes do well with less water.
    Thanks for the info!

  • phillip montgomery posted at 10:02 am on Tue, Jul 12, 2011.

    phillip montgomery Posts: 8

    Darrell, many growers water daily or every other day. It is one of the many benefits of a drip system, where you water small amounts of water on a regular basis. Instead of applying mass amounts of water a few times a year (flood irrigation), you apply the same amount but stretched over the entire season. It is a much more effecient use of water and results in superior grape quality. The total disregard these thieves had for this mans property is horrible. To risk somebodys entire business so they could profit a few hundred bucks is beyond selfish, if they are actually ever caught I hope our beloved district attorney throws the book at them.

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 9:41 am on Tue, Jul 12, 2011.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    Rashid waters his vineyards daily or every other day and said he would start being in serious trouble if he went six days without water.

    This must be a misquote... water every day????????



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