Greg Barila

Journalist. Editor. Social Media specialist.

While it’s hanging on someone else’s trees, consider it forbidden fruit

Crop theft might make for quirky headlines but for farmers it's no joke. Photo - News Corp. Australia.
“Holy guacamole! Thieves strip avocado crop!”
“Cops in a pickle over cucumber heist”.
The headlines make for quirky reading but there’s really not a lot to joke about when veggies vanish and melons go missing.
Last week, thieves somehow managed to strip an avocado crop from a farm near Barmera in the Riverland, making off with about 1.5 tonnes of fruit, apparently without raising an eyebrow.
The police will sort out how they did it. But it doesn’t take a detective to figure out why.
Avocados can sell for anything up to $3 each — and that means last week’s haul could have fetched as much as $18,000 at retail, about $11,000 of which should have gone into the grower’s pocket.
And last week’s heist was just the latest in a series of big crop and stock thefts in South Australia.
Last month, The Advertiser revealed how authorities were investigating the theft of up to $1 million worth of livestock from several producers in the South-East over five years, allegedly using forged electronic ear tags to evade detection at sale.
In 2011, veggie bandits made away with $4k worth of tomatoes from Virginia and in 2009, about$10,000 worth of cucumbers were stolen from glasshouses all over the northern suburbs.
You wouldn't steal a car, so why would you steal someone's livelihood? Photo: @GregBarila
All theft hurts.
I can’t imagine having a new car nicked from the driveway would be much fun.
But imagine how heartbreaking that loss would be if you’d not only poured thousands of dollars into buying the car itself, but also bought every bolt and screw and made the whole thing from the tyres up.
That’s what crop theft feels like.
As Con Poulos from Citrus Australia SA Region told The Advertiser after the avocado job, “Farmers are already doing it tough. This guy’s put in 12 months’ sweat and tears … there’s high costs with water, fertiliser, electricity and you don’t know if it’s the bulk of his production.”
… And then some bastard comes along and steals the bread out of your mouth, just like that.
Crop theft is a low act. I know something about what it’s like.
I grew up on a citrus farm, with mandarin trees lining the boundary running parallel to a quiet dirt road — perfect conditions for orange grabbers.
In mandy season, we listened for idling engines and the illicit thud of fruit bouncing in buckets.
The only time we enjoyed it was when we had time to creep up stealthily, part the tree from the other side and shout, “Oi! Whadda ya think you’re doin?”.
Most thieves satisfied themselves only with as much fruit as their hands or a turned up jumper front could hold.
Once my father busted a bloke who’d almost finished filling every square inch of his car with mandarins and building a mandy pyramid in the boot. He had some splainin’ to do.
It should go without saying, but evidently it needs pointing out: taking someone else’s property without permission is a crime, whether that property is Omo or oranges.
There seems to be some warped idea that stealing is something that only happens in a shop and that plucking a few bags of apples here, a few boxes of apricots there is no big deal.
As the public service announcement on those old video rentals cautioned on film piracy, “You wouldn’t steal a car ...”.
And you wouldn’t steal somebody’s livelihood.
Most farmers are decent people. Ask and ye shall receive
But while it’s hanging on someone else’s trees, just consider it forbidden fruit.