Rural crime – How one young farmer is using her voice to combat criminals

An image of Eveey Hunter stood on a farm

Amid growing financial pressures, many farmers are also having to consider fortifying their farms against rural crime which has risen significantly this year, following a decrease during the pandemic. We talk to our Next Generation forum chair, Eveey Hunter, who has been hitting national headlines to speak about her experience, and what more needs to be done.

The start of 2022 saw rural crime incidents skyrocket according to rural insurer, NFU Mutual’s 2022 Rural Crime Report, with the cost of rural theft estimated at £40.5m across the UK. This comes at a time when farmers are already feeling the pressure from soaring inflation costs, energy price hikes and increased input costs, and as a result has left many feeling vulnerable.

Eveey saw her farm fall victim to the rural crimewave when thieves stole GPS components totalling £60,000 the day before the family were due to finish harvest.

“It’s scary. My brother said he felt like they were being watched that night. The next morning he climbed up into the combine and said over the radio ‘We won’t be doing any farming today’. We didn’t know what he meant at first and then we saw the screens were gone.

“You’re just trying to produce food, and this is how you get repaid.”

NFU Next Generation Forum Chair, Eveey Hunter

A slap in the face

“That’s the hard thing to get across sometimes - when people hear ‘GPS theft’ they don’t realise it’s so much more than that,” Eveey explains. “In our case, they cut the whole screen off the armrest so you couldn’t physically move the tractor – it’s like removing the brain from the tractor effectively.”

Without GPS, harvests can be delayed, and some farmers are left unable to work.

Eveey’s family managed to have two of the tractors up and running within three days, but were left waiting weeks for the repair of the third one. This set them back by two weeks, with the 8-10 week period during harvest season a notoriously crucial window where farmers can’t afford such setbacks.

“It’s just such a slap in the face,” Eveey reflects. “The team are effectively running on coffee the whole harvest. You’re out working late, then come back early in the morning to discover this and just think why do we bother?

“You’re just trying to produce food, and this is how you get repaid.”

Peace of mind

Eveey says her farm is now protected by 360-degree video and motion detector cameras, as well as security gates that can only be opened by those with pre-authorised access, in addition to CCTV and padlocks in use at her home.

“It’s cost us about £4000 for the season, but we had those security systems for peace of mind. Farmers are going to struggle to put their hands into their pockets for that money over something that might stop thieves, but also might not.

“There just isn’t spare money.”

What is the NFU doing?

We’ve been working with Greg Smith MP and a number of other organisations on the Equipment Theft (Prevention) Bill which has just passed its second reading in parliament. 

This would give the Secretary of State powers to enact new regulations including the use of immobilisers, forensic markings and a registration database to support the police when reuniting stolen vehicles with their owners.

While the provisions outlined in the Bill refer specifically to ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles), the NFU is campaigning to see the scope of the Bill widened to cover other agricultural equipment too.

The NFU is also looking at opportunities to meet with the police and all the manufacturers of GPS units to raise these issues.

What can farmers do to protect their farms?

NFU Mutual has put together advice on how to protect your property as part of their crime report. They’ve also created a series of advice videos showcasing a variety of deterrent methods so that you can tailor your security to your farm.

Police forces are advising farmers to use overt marking on their equipment and remove units overnight where practicable.

Eveey is also urging other farmers to report their experiences as much as possible when they’ve been involved in a rural crime incident.

“Policing works on statistics. If you don’t report anything and don’t talk about it they can’t put more resource behind it,” she says.

“You have to have a good relationship with your local police. We can help them as much as they can help us.”

A voice for all farmers

Referring to recent media reports of arrests made in Essex following the theft of farm machinery including GPS equipment, Eveey expresses hope that the more she continues to speak out the more can be done to identify thieves.

“It will be a small world within these criminal groups, and that’s why I’m determined to keep pushing it and talking about it as much as possible as they will get caught eventually.

“I’m known to shout quite loudly about things I’m passionate about. A lot of farmers have to deal with theft but don’t feel comfortable being interviewed or going on the news – but I will do that to get the message across and be a voice not just for the next generation, but for all farmers.”

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