Pubdate: Mon, 28 Jul 2014
Source: Chatham Daily News, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2014 Chatham Daily News
Author: Dan Taekema
Page: A1


Local farmers losing out on cash because of illegal crop

Chatham-Kent council may have given the go-ahead for a medical
marijuana facility in Wallaceburg earlier this month, but according to
local farmers pot plants have been popping up in fields across the
municipality for years.

"Out of 20 fields here 19 will have it," said Ralph Brodie, a local
farmer and director of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. "Pretty
well every field here in Chatham-Kent has pot someplace in it. It may
be only a small amount, but it's there."

Trespassing in farmers' fields to plant pot is by no means a new
concept. Brodie has been farming his entire life and said he's found
pot plants nearly every year.

Most of the time he finds only a few plants. Bigger operations are
more rare, but they do happen.

"About five years ago in a corn field that was about 1,250-feet long,
1,000 feet were taken out in one row it was all planted," said Brodie.

The veteran farmer said people watch fields and wait until farmers
have planted their crops and are gone before moving in and planting

"They tear your crop out and put it in where your crop was because
they've got all the fertilizer, they've got all the moisture, they've
got everything right there they need for it," said Brodie.

In a region known for its agriculture, it's not surprising that people
wishing to grow pot illegally would take advantage of Chatham-Kent's
ideal growing conditions.

"There are a lot of corn fields though all of southwestern Ontario
which is conducive to outdoor marijuana grow. If conditions are
conducive for growing corn they're perfect for growing anything," said
Sgt. Peter Koersvelt with the Windsor RCMP Drug Section.

"It's good farm country out here and access is easy around here, so
it's not just because the weather is great or the soil is great, it's
a combination of all those things," he added.

Illegal growers favour corn because it provides the best cover, but
plants have also been found tied down in fields of soybeans.

For farmers like Brodie, the damage done by illegal grow operations
can be a one-two punch.

Not only do they lose the crops that are torn out, but fields are
often damaged by people checking in on their illegal crop.

"There's a loss of financial productivity," said Koersvelt. "If you're
losing crop, you're losing crop. In a single 20-acre field I've seen
as many as 500 plants planted in and out through the entire field so
you will lose a fair bit of your cash crop."

Koersvelt was part of an RCMP team that used to visit Chatham every
year and use a helicopter to help search for illegal outdoor grow 

In 2012, the chopper was pulled from the marijuana eradication project
because of limited funding.

The effect from the loss of the helicopter was as immediate as it was

In 2010, the RCMP and Chatham-Kent Police Service found and removed
approximately 3,500 plants worth an estimated $3.5 million.

Just two years later Chatham police only managed to find and remove
365 plants, nearly 10 times less, without the help of the helicopter.

At the time, Chatham-Kent Police Const. Doug Goldsmith told The Daily
News that without the help of the helicopter, police would be lucky to
destroy 10% of pot grown locally.

Now, Chatham-Kent police have been reduced to relying on tips from
Crime Stoppers or calls from landowners who find pot plants on their

"We just go in and pull it; most of the time if the farmer is not
involved he doesn't want anything to do with it anyways," said Goldsmith.

Koersvelt said there were a number of reasons the chopper was dropped
by the program, but wasn't ready to rule out a return.

"Could you see it (the chopper) down here again? Yes, but it's been
two years since we've had it down," he said.

When faced with the raw numbers of plants and the huge territory to
cover it may seem as though the police are fighting a losing battle,
but Koersvelt said he isn't discouraged.

"I believe it does make a difference, yes. Is it an uphill battle?
Yes, it absolutely is," he said. "I think it would be naive to suggest
that based on the eradication that we've done in the past that we have
stemmed out the grow operations, but it certainly does make a

"The feedback that I've received from local residents is that they're
happy to see that we're out here," he added.

In the meantime, Brodie suggested another solution.

"If they legalize pot it would be a lot easier for us because they'd
quit doing planting," he said with a laugh. "Right now, with it
illegal they get mega bucks for a pound, but if they legalize it pot
wouldn't be worth anything."

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2010 RCMP and CKPS pulled out approximately 3,500 marijuana plants
valued at $3.5 million.

2011 RCMP and CKPS remove roughly 2,000 pot plants worth $2

2012 RCMP remove helicopter from pot eradication program due to
funding issues. 365 plants worth $365,000 are found and destroyed.

2013 CKPS locates and destroys approximately 440 marijuana plants with
a street value of $440,000.

*Financial information based on police estimate that a mature
marijuana plant is worth $1,000 on the street.
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