A sign of the times; US fuel thefts increasing

(AP:LORENZO, Texas) With the price of diesel skyrocketing, farmers and ranchers around the country are being targeted by ne'er-do-wells armed with syphon hoses and pumps.

Sheldon Wilder, who owns a cotton gin 30 miles east of Memphis, Tenn., has endured worse already. Twice in two weeks, he had diesel drained from saddlebag tanks on a truck at his gin. The second time the thieves left the hoses loose and what diesel they didn't steal drained out onto the ground.

"You get irritated, but that's life," he said of the combined 300 gallons taken in the thefts. "It's just people who want some money."

Western Texas cotton producer Mark Schoepf said that with the price of diesel above $4.15 a gallon, he's decided to protect his investment. He recently bought 10 padlocks to affix to tanks that fuel the diesel motors irrigating his fields.

Many of those tanks are visible from a highway bordering his fields, making them easy targets.

"Before, we've never kept them locked," said Schoepf, who is able to store up to 5,000 gallons to fuel his farming operation east of Lubbock. "With diesel prices that high, somebody's going to try to get it."

Schoepf isn't alone. As more motorists buy locking gas caps for their vehicles, farmers and ranchers are also having to take steps to protect their fuel.