Farm fields torn up

Farmers on the north side of Sylvan Lake are tallying the losses after yet another vehicle went for a ride through at least three wheat fields late last week.

Sylvan Lake area farmer Fred Brink stands in the ditch by one of the damaged wheat fields: the vandalism is costly to farmers.

Sylvan Lake area farmer Fred Brink stands in the ditch by one of the damaged wheat fields: the vandalism is costly to farmers.

SYLVAN LAKE — Farmers on the north side of Sylvan Lake are tallying the losses after yet another vehicle went for a ride through at least three wheat fields late last week.

The parallel line of truck tracks goes through the first field, crosses the road to the second field, crosses another road to a third field, and then carves a circle before exiting through a ditch and back onto the road.

Along with the ripening wheat that was flattened under the vehicle’s tires, heads were ripped off the stalks in the space between the two tracks, creating a wide swath of damage in fields that had nicely survived a series of natural insults, including hail and flooding.

It’s yet another volley in the war that is erupting between farmers on the north side of the lake and an influx of developers erecting new homes in the area.

Area farmer Rick Duncan said the damage would be calculated based on the area of crop that was destroyed. Based on a price of $4 per bushel for wheat, the damage would amount to $320 per acre, he said.

While his fields escaped the latest escapade, his brother Dennis Duncan and their neighbour Fred Brink, who farm two of the three affected fields, said they are fed up with vehicle damages to their crops and have run out of ideas for stopping those responsible.

Increasing development in the area is bringing more people who don’t seem to understand or care about the affects their few moments of fun are having on the fields that feed their families, said Dennis Duncan.

The new homes are bringing millions of dollars in new taxes to the county, he said. But there is no compensation and no help for farmers who are losing tens of thousands of dollars every year to crop damage.

Fencing is not an option, he said. It would cost $50,000 to fence his fields and that’s virtually no barrier to people who carry wire cutters in their quads, bikes, pickup trucks and snowmobiles.

He and a mechanic were working on a tractor one day, early in spring, when Duncan looked up and saw seven quads and motorcycles running side by side over the hill in one of the fields, freshly seeded at the time, that now bears the truck tracks.

Duncan said he lost his temper after flagging the riders down to ask them who had given them permission to ride in the field. Expecting a group of teenagers, he was astonished to discover that the riders were all adults, ranging in age from 18 to 35.

Earlier, he had posted a sign in a neighbouring field imploring people to keep off the crops. Six months later, someone took the sign.

It’s just going to get worse, with the county projecting that new development will bring 21,000 people to the area over the next five years, said Brink.

Quad riders have carved deep ruts through a hay field that he is obliged to leave open so the power company can have access to a line running across the middle.

They’ve carved paths through the trees and them come up into the hay field from the paths. Brink has placed big hay bales across the paths where he can, but is unable to stop people from riding in on the power line.

“I will find out where they live. I would like to do to them what they did to me,” said Brink.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com