Gangs using drones as spring sees surge in tractor GPS theft

Police are asking farmers to stay vigilant, review security measures and report any suspicious activity following a surge in the theft of high-value global positioning systems (GPS) this spring.

Gangs of organised criminals are travelling across the country to scope out farms using vehicles and drones before stealing high-value kit from tractors and sprayers.

See also: Video: CCTV captures GPS kit being stolen

And as harvest approaches, police are warning the thefts will continue and all farms are vulnerable to attacks, including those in remote locations.

In the latest high-profile theft, two men raided an arable farm in Thame, Oxfordshire, at midnight on Friday 26 May, stealing seven John Deere Greenstar tractor domes and seven StarFire screens, worth £70,000 altogether.

The balaclava-clad thieves smashed the windscreen of a Fendt Rogator sprayer to get access to one expensive GPS unit.

They were filmed on CCTV sprinting across the farmyard carrying the stolen goods.

Farmer Robert Redman believes the same gang flew a drone over his farm a fortnight before the raid.

Sprayer with smashed door glass and windscreen

Thieves smashed the glass on this Fendt Rogator to access a GPS unit © Robert Redman

“They knew exactly where they were going and what they are looking for, and where CCTV cameras and floodlights were placed,” he said.

“I’m adamant they have hacked the John Deere system or have a master hub that can pinpoint where machines are located. How else would they have known seven machines were in the same place?”

Black market

Supt Andy Huddlestone, from Northumbria Police, national lead for agricultural machinery and vehicle thefts, said there was high demand on the black market in the UK and Europe for good agricultural machinery and GPS equipment.

“Stolen equipment has been heading to eastern Europe without a doubt,” he added. “You would expect the black market to respond in any country that is under sanctions and cannot buy machinery and equipment legally.”

He urged all farmers to report any suspicious activity on or near farms to police and rural WhatsApp groups, review their security and remove GPS equipment from machinery and store it away when not in use.

NFU Mutual said the cost of GPS theft more than doubled to above £500,000 in the first four months of 2023, compared with the same period last year. Its initial claims analysis for May suggests the number of thefts remains “very high”.

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