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Farm thieves rustle wine grapes and catfish

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  • Having tried horses, cows and catfish — rustlers have moved on to vineyards. Last year, Spiegel reported that a top German wine grape grower woke up to empty acreage — literally, his vineyard had been picked clean. Overnight, the grape burglars brazenly drove pickers into the vineyard and calmly snagged $130,000 worth of Pinot Noir.

Rustlers were once satisfied with cattle and horses. For most Americans, rustling brings up iconic Lonesome Dove images of "borrowing" a herd from Mexico or watching Jake Spoon cross the line into horse thievery. Whether print or film, rustlers usually met their fate at the end of a rope — a tidy morality play about sin and its wages.

It seems fair to label rustlers as an opportunistic lot. It seems fair to think that rustlers were never fixated on livestock. And it even seems fair to guess that had there been money in it — they might have rustled fish. Fish? Fact trumps fiction, because it was only a few years back that the aquaculture industry was hit with significant theft problems. Catfish rustlers put a dent in a farmer’s pocketbook with a classic ruse. They siphoned off fish from tank-loads headed for processing, dumped the aqua-booty into the back of a pick-up truck, and doled out their "fresh catch" to local fish markets. A wink, a nod, nobody any the wiser — at least for a while. The weight differentials of the lightened trucks eventually landed the thieves in the back of a squad car. Nobody was hanged over the incidents though.

Having tried horses, cows and catfish — rustlers have moved on to the sunny slopes of German vineyards. Last year, Spiegel reported that a top German wine grape grower woke up to empty acreage — literally, his vineyard had been picked clean. Maybe 5,500 pounds of grapes gone overnight. The grape burglars brazenly drove pickers into the vineyard and calmly snagged $130,000 worth of Pinot Noir.

And the culprits? Police speculation wasn’t aimed at any Jake Spoon-type characters, but rather at other wine grape producers who might have had a poor season. Come again? Regardless of whether true, it’s a bit surreal for U.S. growers to picture: “My crops were a bit off this year……errrrr……I guess I’ll drive some pickers over to my neighbor’s farm this evening and take his.” So much for highbrow European society. American farmers, it must be said, tend to limit harvest to their own acreage.

Anyhow, there must have been a fair number of disgruntled, German wine grape growers sneaking around at night — because the thefts continued. The Associated Press reported a rash of wine grape rustling; over a dozen incidents. It was the typical scenario: nighttime larceny with high-value grapes stolen literally days before harvest. The German grape rustling has involved both mechanized raids and hand-pickers on foot.

Again, no one has been hanged yet, but with six-figure losses — German farmers may be looking for some rope, or at least thinking some very dark thoughts.

(For more on agricultural theft, see: Nasty roadway spikes nab farm copper thieves and Copper theft getting worse for farmers)

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