Farmers told to turn farms into fortresses to fend off fuel thieves

Farmers are being urged to turn their farmyards into fortresses to protect against diesel and fertiliser thieves amid rocketing prices caused by the war in Ukraine.

Concern is growing that a combination of high prices and shortages could lead to a surge in farmers’ red diesel tanks and fertiliser stores becoming targets for theft.

Police forces have warned of a rising number of thefts from fuel tanks on farms in many regions across the UK.

See also: Farmers warned of rise in heating oil and diesel thefts

Despite reductions in fuel duty following chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spring statement last week, white diesel is still costing more than £1.75/litre at many service stations.

Farmers are also chasing supplies of red diesel to keep their tractors working. Although it is subject to lower tax, red diesel is almost double the cost it was a year ago.

Meanwhile, fertiliser prices have risen almost four-fold in the past year and supplies have dried up as high gas prices mean it is not economic for manufacturers to keep production going. 

While some farmers are unable to get hold of fertiliser and others are refusing to order stocks at current prices, others who bought early have increasingly valuable stocks in their farm buildings. 

In recent weeks, some farmers have started to plan increased on-farm red diesel storage tanks because of fears of shortages and even higher prices through harvest.

Major temptation

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Together the price rises and shortages are threatening future food supplies – but making stored fuel and fertiliser a major temptation for thieves at the same time. It’s making future planning a nightmare for farmers.

“Over the years we have found that criminals react very quickly to target goods that have become expensive and in short supply.

“We are urging farmers to review security measures in their farmyards and make plans to reduce the risk of diesel being taken, when tractors and combines are left out in the fields.

“In the past, fertiliser thefts have been rare and farmers haven’t needed to put security in place to protect stocks.

“However, the huge swing in prices makes it possible that thieves will be on the lookout for stored fertiliser and may even try to use farms’ own machinery to load it up to lorries.”

NFU Mutual advises keeping in regular contact with farm insurers to make sure there is adequate cover in place for the fuel, fertiliser and stored crops on the farm.

“Another factor to take into consideration when planning extra storage is how quickly the fuel will be used.

“This is important because diesel can deteriorate over time causing fuel system issues and possible breakdown to machinery engines,” Ms Davidson added.

Diesel tank and fertiliser store security tips 

Fuel tanks 

  • Record the number, location, tank storage capacity and the date/times when tanks are filled and regularly check levels.
  • Where possible, locate the tank where it can be viewed from the farmhouse. Fuel tanks located away from buildings or dwellings are more vulnerable if they can’t be seen by occupants.
  • Ideally, tanks should be within an enclosed compound with secured access.
  • Fit a fuel tank alarm to notify you of an attack on fuel tanks. Remote electronic fuel-level gauges will set off an audible or monitored alarm if the fuel level in the tank suddenly drops or falls below a defined level.
  • Make sure the tank is suitably bunded to prevent release into the ground, causing pollution.

Fertiliser stores

  • Keep field and farmyard gates closed and locked, and block exit points that aren’t used.
  • Install and use intruder alarm systems, which may have a local sounder or remotely monitored signalling.
  • Install security lighting to illuminate any suspicious activity and consider CCTV.
  • Keep fertiliser stocks out of sight in locked buildings. However, to reduce fire risks, especially when storing ammonium nitrate (AN), make sure there is still plenty of ventilation in the building, incompatible materials are kept segregated and at least 1m clearance is maintained around AN bag stacks for firefighting access.
  • If storing of AN exceeds 25t, display appropriate warning signs and notify the HSE and Fire Authority.

Vehicles and machinery

  • Use locking fuel filler caps.
  • Keep tractors and powered machinery locked up and out of sight from public roads and footpaths when not in use, to prevent thieves draining their fuel tanks.
  • Only fill fuel bowser with the amount needed for the day and return fuel bowsers to locked buildings when not in use.

Source: NFU Mutual

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