Theft is believed to have cost the UK farming industry £52.7m in 2011, according to a leading rural insurer.

NFU Mutual said the 6% year-on-year rise in agricultural crime came despite an 11% fall in tractor thefts in England and Wales.

Instead, thieves appear to have shifted their focus to livestock, diesel and metal.

While power tools and ATVs remain firm favourites with rural criminals, emerging trends such as metal theft are being carried out on a large scale.

Thieves were also now targeting farm chemical stores on arable farms to steal pesticides and herbicides, which can cost over £600 for 10 litres.

Poor economic conditions and rising commodity prices were the two main factors driving the steady rise in rural crime over the last 12 months, the survey suggested.

Top 10 most stolen items (national)
1. Tools and power tools
2. Quad bikes
3. Oil/Diesel
4. Tractors
5. Metal
6. Machinery
7. Trailers
8. Vehicles (including Land Rovers)
9. Personal items
10. Livestock

Although tractor thefts have fallen in England and Wales, they remain a major problem for farmers in many parts of the country and were continuing to rise in Scotland and Northern Ireland with tractors being stolen and exported from channel ports to final destinations across the globe.

The NFU Mutual Rural Crime Survey (RCS) was based on claims made in branch offices in rural towns and villages in 2011.

Lindsay Sinclair, group chief executive of NFU Mutual, said: “It is a sad fact but the countryside has long been seen as an easy target for criminals.

“Encouragingly, country folk are not taking the blight lying down, fighting back with both high-tech security measures as well as more innovative schemes.

“As the UK’s leading rural insurer, we are committed to keeping our members up-to-date with emerging trends and promoting great examples of crime prevention. Working together we can make it much more difficult for criminals to succeed in countryside.”

Although over three quarters (76%) of NFU Mutual agents believe members were more concerned about rural crime in their area compared to 12 months ago, it appears farmers were refusing to take this blight lying down.

To combat the problem of tractor thefts, the company sponsors a police unit to coordinate national and international operations to catch thieves.

The survey reveals that NFU Mutual agents and claims staff believe high-tech security measures like CCTV and tracker devices, as well as physical security measures such as locks and alarms were more effective than a greater police presence or tougher sentencing for criminals.

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