Southwest Florida vegetable growers have experienced a number of large thefts of agriculturural chemicals from storage facilities during the past few months.

But these aren't common thieves—they've adopted the latest technology to educate themselves and fine-tune their operations.

A Collier County investigator had the occasion to interview a burglary suspect, who revealed that these thefts were often not just crimes of opportunity, but well-planned operations using common technology, Tim Garver, a University of Florida-St. Lucie County Extension spcecialist, reports in a grower newsletter.

The suspect told the investigator that they used the satellite imaging from Google Earth to find alternate access points to facilities and to locate potential routes of escape.

They used scanners and radios to track the movement of law enforcement personnel.

Heavy locks were cut with small, easily portable and concealed torch units.

The thieves did their research and knew which pesticide products were most in demand and were the most costly per gallon or pound.

They also had made contacts with personnel who were familiar with pesticide deliveries from retail pesticide suppliers.

In addition, they occasionally took “orders” from someone willing to buy the stolen goods.

Here are some tips to prevent future thefts:

• 1. Check your location(s) on Google Earth and check for unsecured access points.

• 2. Restrict access to pesticide storage areas of non-essential visitors or employees.

• 3. Order pesticides in quantities sufficient to only satisfy the needs of a couple of days of applications.

• 4. Lock your facilities and report suspicious activity to law enforcement.