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Big Brother on the farm

A security camera watches the entrance of the unloading area Friday at the Mitchell Livestock Auction. More people in the agriculture industry are adding surveillance to their operations as ag prices remain strong. (Chris Mueller/Republic)

KIMBALL -- With many farms growing bigger, more farmers are using surveillance cameras to keep an eye on their ever-expanding livelihood.

Brian Price, 47, is the owner of On Sight Video Surveillance, a surveillance company based in the Kimball/Platte area. Since Price started the company in 2011 -- after spending 20 years working in information technology in the Twin Cities -- it has started to specialize in rural and farm surveillance.

"It's not like when you used to have a farm on 160 acres," Price said. "Sometimes they might have spreads 20 miles wide on different farms."

On Sight is able to wirelessly screen and store all the footage recorded on its cameras through its data center, which allows clients to access their systems almost anywhere at any time on a computer, smartphone or tablet, Price said.

"We're actually saving everything to a cloud-based system," he said. "We can be 1,000 miles away from a camera and still be able to record."

The system also allows On Sight to monitor cameras to ensure they're functioning correctly, Price said.

The company has installed cameras across central South Dakota, including at the Mitchell Department of Public Safety and Mitchell Livestock Auction, but Price said the greatest growth has been in agriculture. On Sight installed hundreds of cameras on farms last year, he said.

With higher commodity prices and farming taking place on scales never seen before, Price said farmers are no longer taking chances with security.

"Tens of thousands of dollars can go in a matter of minutes," he said. "It just comes down to risk."

Joel Foxley has farmed with his brothers outside of Platte for the last 23 years. They installed their first security cameras about a year and a half ago and today have 15 cameras keeping watch over their fuel, farming equipment, grain bins and grounds, Foxley said.

"With the price of fuel and the price of everything, we just thought it would be a wise decision to have a little safety," he said.

Ross Ringling runs a 3,000-head feedlot and trucking business near Platte. On Sight recently installed eight cameras to watch several entrances and exits, high-traffic areas, and all the gates leading in and out of the feed yard, Ringling said.

"We've never had any problems," Ringling said. "It just seems to be the way the industry is going."

Being able to wirelessly access the surveillance system was a big attraction, Ringling said.

"I can be driving down the road and pull it up on my smartphone and see who is there and what they're doing."

Despite the increasing number of farmers investing in security, Price said the added security is still fairly new for most of them.

"Most farmers are getting there first cameras," he said. "But they've all heard of somebody else who has been ripped off."

Last June, 53-year-old Scott Suelflow, a Mitchell-area farmer, was sentenced to 30 days in jail and ordered to pay nearly $14,000 in restitution for stealing more than 750 bushels of his neighbor's corn several months earlier.

"That incident really put a scare in a lot of people," Price said.

Ringling and Foxley are both convinced that surveillance cameras are quickly becoming a necessity for farmers.

"I hate to say it," Ringling said. "You hate to see our world coming to this, but it is what it is."

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