Farmers are being warned to increase security in their farmyards following a spate of tractor global positioning system (GPS) thefts in Lancashire last weekend.
In recent weeks thefts of expensive GPS kit have been reported to NFU Mutual in the North West, East Anglia and the Midlands.
“We’re seeing a resurgence in GPS theft in some areas and we are concerned it could continue to spread across the North West,” said Jo Oliver, NFU Mutual Senior Agent for Preston and Blackburn.
“Thieves are stealing all makes and models of GPS control units, together with screens and domes. It’s worryingly similar to last year’s unprecedented surge in GPS theft, which saw equipment stolen from farms across the UK.”
NFU Lancashire County Adviser Liz Berry said: “This new wave of GPS thefts is very concerning. The loss of this equipment can cause significant disruption to farm businesses. We know of NFU members who had to delay their harvest last year after GPS units were stolen.
“We are urging farmers to protect their GPS equipment and take whatever steps they can to make it difficult for thieves to gain access. They should also report any suspicious behaviour, particularly vehicle registration numbers, to the police via 101.”
DC Chris Piggott, who co-ordinates the agricultural vehicle crime unit at the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS), said: “GPS theft is an international crime, with countries across the globe experiencing thefts and attempts to sell stolen equipment back into the farming sector. There are also homegrown-criminals stealing GPS systems as people turn to criminal activity to make a quick buck.”
With funding from NFU Mutual, NaVCIS is supporting operations across the country to tackle organised agricultural machinery crime and is working with overseas police forces to disrupt international crime gangs.
Asked about reasons behind the trend, Jo Oliver at NFU Mutual, said: “Thieves are taking advantage of increased spring activity on farms to identify targets and, with lockdown easing, criminals may feel able to travel without risk of being stopped.
“These criminals are well-organised and know what they are looking for - so it’s essential that farmers remove GPS kit when possible when it’s not in use and store it securely. It’s also well worth beefing up security in farm yards, machinery sheds and on tractors to make it harder for thieves to operate.”
NFU Mutual, the NFU and NaVCIS are urging farmers with GPS systems to activate PIN number security codes. On older models without PIN security, marking kit with farm names and postcodes in indelible ink or forensically can make it harder for thieves to sell on and help police and potential buyers spot stolen equipment.
“Demand for GPS equipment is fuelling this type of crime and we are urging people to think twice before purchasing second-hand items online,” said DC Chris Piggott.
“Although police have shut some bogus sellers down, they are emerging again under false names and purporting to be UK sellers.
“Anyone considering a purchase should get photos showing serial numbers before parting with any money and check with the manufacturer that it is not recorded stolen on their system before completing the transaction.
“We also urge farmers to report suspicious activity including drones over farms, vehicles visiting that are not known to the farm, or trespassers on 101, and if a crime is taking place call 999.”
To protect GPS systems from thieves, NFU Mutual is issuing the following advice:
• Activate PIN security on GPS kit with your own unique number if available
• If your system is not pin enabled, mark your postcode to deter thieves and trace your property back to you
• Keep tractors and combines with GPS fitted stored out of sight when possible
• Remove GPS kit when possible from tractors and other machinery and store it securely when not in use
• Record serial numbers and photograph your kit
• Check serial numbers of second-hand kit offered for sale