Tractors are being stolen to order in a machinery racket worth £36m a year, according to a report by industry experts.
Stolen farm machinery, building equipment and diggers are making up a lucrative business for thieves who find it easy to sell on stolen goods.
The report by the National Plant and Equipment register(TER) said 3678 pieces of plant equipment, worth about £36m, were stolen across the UK last year.
Among the missing machinery were record numbers of tractors and quad bikes.
Tim Purbrick, TER manager, said the sale and use of heavy machinery is not regulated as closely as ordinary road vehicles.
”The used equipment trade is like a huge money laundering machine where criminals push stolen equipment into the trade at one end and get clean cash out at the other,” he said.
“Serious organised criminals probably make more money out of equipment theft for far less risk than they do from smuggling drugs. It’s a low risk, high reward crime.”
The annual report found 184 tractors worth over £2m were stolen last year, up from 74 the previous year.
Quad bike thefts increased from 122 to 223 during the same period.
The report said insurers only ask questions about the make, model, hours of running and condition of equipment they cover.
As a result, there is a thriving underworld industry in concealing the identity of stolen equipment.
Mr Purbrick said the recession had driven demand for some types of stolen equipment and had pushed up fraud levels.
“Efforts must be made by all concerned to break the vicious circle of equipment theft through unique keys, immobilisers, tracking devices, better site security and use of due diligence for theft before trading, financing or insuring used plant and equipment,” he added.