Agricultural theft is on the rise according to the NFU Mutual rural crime survey.
In England agricultural theft cost farmers £42.8m during 2010. This represents a 26% increase on the previous year.
Scotland saw thefts totaling £1.4m an increase of 57% over the same period, and in Northern Ireland theft had risen by 28% to £3.8m. Theft in Wales was recorded at £1.7m a reduction of 48% over the previous year.
These figures do not include the cost of lost revenue, replacing stolen equipment, or increased insurance premiums. Often insurance companies will only offer the current market value of stolen equipment including depreciation leaving owners in the tough situation of having to make up for the shortfall to replace the machinery.
The survey found that most theft occurred from outbuildings during the night and early hours of the morning. In fact the most common time reported for theft was between midnight and 6am, although tractor theft was often reported during broad daylight hours.
The countryside is proving to be a difficult area for crime prevention agencies to police effectively and the high value of agricultural equipment together with the lack of built in security devices makes them a prime target for thieves.
Theft of tractors is on the increase in part because over the years the car industry has upped its game, with manufacturers routinely equipping vehicles with alarms, immobilisers, high tech key fobs with rolling codes, and even tracking devices.
This makes them a much less attractive target for thieves who have moved on to agricultural vehicles which have typical security levels as seen thirty years ago in the car industry.
The One key fits all policy of agricultural manufacturers for their brands has been adding fuel to the fire, with large tractors being worth more than top of the range cars and often left unattended, this is something which the industry will need to address.
In many cases a single reported theft can involve several machines at the same time. In a recent case Farmer Nigel Hicks of Wallingford had three Massey Ferguson tractors stolen in just one night, along with a loader and a bailer.
It is not always possible to lock valuable equipment away when carrying out work away from your premises for a period of time. Earlier this year a Farmer in Wormingford reported the theft of two John Deere tractors, two dumper trailers, and a barrel of red diesel to the police. The machinery was taken while they were parked up for few days while digging a lake.
In the survey 71% of NFU branches said they believed rural crime was planned and carried out in an organised fashion, this was most often by thieves from outside of the area and the growing trend is for this machinery to be stolen from fields and outbuildings, and transported to warehouses, often to be stripped down for parts and shipped overseas.
In one recent case reported in the news, a tractor which was stolen from a farm in the Cotswolds turned up 2000 miles away in Cyprus.
Thieves will often park up stolen tractors in remote areas incase they have a hidden tracker installed. If after a period of time they have not been recovered by police they can assume there is no tracker fitted and move them on. This means that machinery fitted with tracking devices benefit from a high rate of recovery without loss or damage.
Having a good tracking device fitted can also combat the theft of agricultural machinery if it is capable of actively alerting on any attempt to move the equipment, thus allowing the crime to be prevented before it happens.