Farmers are being warned of a new rural crime wave after 24 tractor GPS kits were stolen from West Sussex farms in a week.
The GPS kits, costing £134,000, were taken from four farms in a 10 mile radius in the week starting March 3. Other farms in the South East have been targeted with latest reports of thefts coming in from Oxfordshire. NFU Mutual, the UK's leading rural insurer, has issued tips to help farmers protect themselves from this type of theft.
Rebecca Davidson, NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist, said: “Theft of tractor GPS equipment is now a serious problem for farmers.
“We first saw thieves targeting GPS equipment from arable farms in East Anglia and the crime has now spread to other parts of the country. Thieves appear to be targeting farms in one locality, and then moving their activity to another area to avoid detection."
GPS kits typically cost over £10,000 and help ensure that seed, fertiliser and sprays are delivered in precise amounts while also making harvesting more efficient.
“In an attempt to stop thieves targeting GPS kit, manufacturers now provide PIN numbers to prevent the equipment being used by others – but it appears that once stolen, the units are being passed on to other criminals who can bypass the security settings and sell on."
Most GPS kit in use on farms today is fitted to tractors as an easily-removable accessory. To prevent thefts, farmers have been removing the kit when it’s not in use and storing it under lock and key.
“Some tractors now incorporate GPS kit in the cab dashboard. We had hoped that this development would deter thieves – but we are now getting claims reported where thieves have smashed dashboards to remove GPS equipment, causing damage costing thousands of pounds to repair as well as the loss of the GPS unit.
“This trend is deeply worrying for farmers who are investing in hi-tech equipment to make their farms more efficient and reduce pollution.”
West Sussex farmer and NFU county chairman Mark Chandler explained that the most serious impact of GPS thefts was the disruption to farming operations.
“It takes about a week to replace a GPS system and get it set up ready for work, and that can mean missing a weather window putting a crop growth cycle at risk,” he said.
“These thefts are part of an ongoing crime-wave with farmers feeling they are under siege from criminals ranging from hare coursers and opportunist thefts of tools to high organised gangs stealing expensive equipment.”
Tractor GPS security advice
- Remove GPS guidance receivers, aerials and antenna globes from tractors when not in use and keep them in a secure locked place whenever possible
- Consider fitting security tethers or brackets to stop units being removed
- Mark your post code on GPS units either with a UV pen, engraving tool of forensic marking system such as Datatag
- Store machinery in locked buildings whenever possible
- Where locking machines away isn’t an option, consider fitting mains or battery-operated alarms to cover around the perimeter of areas where machines are stored
- CCTV and intruder alarms will deter most thieves, but make sure they are checked regularly to ensure they will work when you need them and they are placed where they won’t be triggered by animals or foliage moving in the wind
- Record machinery serial numbers and photograph kit to help police identify stolen items and increase the chances of them being recovered
- Let employees know the security arrangements that are expected of them while working on the farm
- Join local farmwatch or social media security groups to keep in touch with rural crime trends in your area
- Encourage farm staff to be vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour or vehicles to the police on 101, or 999 in an emergency