A shock rise in tractor and machinery thefts has prompted warnings for farmers to increase security measures and report any suspicious activity around fields and outbuildings.
The cost of farm theft claims doubled last month to more than £1m compared with the same month in 2016, reveals the latest crime data from rural insurer NFU Mutual.
The figures were released as farm leaders prepare to call for urgent action to combat crime in the countryside.
“The sharp rise comes after months win which theft claims remained broadly static – largely due to increased security measures taken by farmers to protect their tractors and quads,” said Tim Price, NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist.
“We are currently drilling down into the figures to get a clear picture of what is behind the increase – but it’s already clear that the theft of a small number of very high-spec tractors stolen with implements are responsible for about £200,000 of the month’s theft claims bill.”
Quad bike and ATV thefts continued to make up the largest number of agricultural vehicle claims, said Mr Price.
But thieves were finding new ways of getting round security devices and were also staking out farms to find opportunities when quads could be stolen.
As well as a number of high-value tractor thefts, thieves were continuing to target older tractors for export to developing countries.
Thefts of Land Rover Defenders had increased following the end of production of the iconic vehicle.
Other insurers have also reported a spike in farm thefts. Nigel Wellings, of Farmers & Mercantile, said: “The biggest problem we are facing is the theft of GPS units. At the same time, rural police have limited resources, which isn’t helping.”
The issue will be debated by NFU leaders at a union council meeting on Tuesday (25 April) at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire.
A rural crime manifesto to be published by the NFU early this summer will then reinforce calls for urgent action against farm theft.
NFU deputy president Minette Batters described crime as the “number one issue” among farmers.
“We need a more joined-up, action-based approach from government to tackle this problem – I have never known rural crime as bad as it is now.”
It was important that government departments other than Defra also addressed the challenge of rural crime, said Ms Batters.
She added: “Straightforward on-farm crime has massively escalated and action is not always taken, even when it is reported. It needs to be prioritised.”