Who Stole the Beans?

Nov 12, 2014

It may not be a classic “Whodunnit” but the mystery of who stole soybeans from a field in western Illinois certainly has intrigue.

On a Sunday in October, Matt Schuster, who lives in northeast Iowa but rents some ground in Jo Daviess County, Ill., went over to the field in question to open some gates and check whether the beans were ready to harvest.

“When I got over the hill and got to the field,” he recalled, “my heart sank because I noticed that half the field was combined already for me.”

A full 18 acres of soybeans: gone. That's about $18,000-worth.

He contacted the local police. Witnesses came forward, describing the John Deere combine and the dark-haired man, of slight build, who they’d seen driving it in that field. At first, Schuster said, he hoped it was just an innocent mix up. He said that seemed to be the line the investigators pursued.

“They’re still focusing on that,” Schuster said, “thinking some custom operator got in the wrong field trying to collect some debts from another farmer that’s alongside of me.”

The Jo Daviess County sheriff’s office would only say that the investigation is continuing, and that they’ve never seen a case like this before. Schuster, who said he’ll be meeting with investigators again Thursday had hoped the offending farmer would approach him and explain what happened.

“If he made a mistake, let’s not punish him, let’s just move on,” Schuster said. “But I’m afraid it’s out of my hands now.”

What’s more, Schuster has also become painfully aware of the shortcomings of his insurance policies. His agent initially expressed confidence that his losses, which Schuster had forward contracted at $12.64 per bushel, would be covered.

“I’m 99 percent [sure],” said Ron Oberbroeckling of Oberbroeckling Insurance in Dubuque, Iowa. “I haven’t got anything back saying we got a problem, so I’m sure it’s going through.”

He echoed that Schuster’s predicament is highly unusual.

“[In] 42 years I’ve been doing this,” Oberbroeckling said, “this is the first one of these kinds of claims I’ve ever gotten.”

But a couple of days later, Schuster got some unwelcomed news in a letter from his insurance company.

“And it states right in there that it is just not covered,” he said. A crop siphoned out of a storage bin would be covered, but a standing crop in the field is not. He said he has shared the letter with other farmers, encouraging all of them to go check their policies.

“Take the time to look,” Schuster said. “And I hope it never happens to anybody ever again." But he said at least perhaps one silver lining will be that farmers pay attention to what is and is not covered by their policies.

Schuster’s home farm is close to the airport in Dubuque, Iowa. He once had a hot air balloon land on his field, but that happened after harvest, so no crop was lost. Aircraft have not been an issue. And they won’t be.

“I am covered for a plane crash, believe it or not,” he said, “I get $2,500 for a plane crash.”

His insurance also covers fire, explosion, riot, civil commotion, vehicles, vandalism and mysterious mischief, he said. That last one gives him pause, but he said he's not sure it's worth the fight to argue that stealing beans constitutes "mysterious mischief."

Afterall, a John Deere combine in an Illinois field in October can hardly be considered "mysterious." But the mischief part?