Harvest security alert as cost of GPS thefts doubles in 2023

Release issued locally on behalf of NFU

  • Cost of GPS theft doubled in first four months of 2023 compared to same period last year*, figures from NFU Mutual show
  • April was second worst month on record for GPS thefts
  •  Fears harvest season could be disrupted by thefts of essential GPS technology

Rural insurer NFU Mutual has issued a security alert to farmers after thefts of expensive global positioning systems (GPS) doubled in the first four months of 2023.

Used to provide precision positioning for cultivation and harvesting operations on farms across the world, GPS systems have become one of the most targeted pieces of farm equipment because of their high cost and portability.

April saw GPS thefts hit the second-highest monthly level ever reported to NFU Mutual. The leading rural insurer is now concerned that the criminal gangs responsible for the farm-tech crime wave could be planning to take advantage of the busy harvest season to attack even more farms, causing widespread delays and disruption.

Latest figures from NFU Mutual reveal the cost of GPS theft exceeded £500,000 in the first four months of the year. The insurer is urging farmers to review security as harvest approaches to avoid becoming a victim.

Bob Henderson, who leads NFU Mutual’s Agricultural Engineering Field Team, said: “The scale of GPS theft we’re currently seeing makes it vital that farmers take all possible steps to protect their GPS equipment by removing it from tractors, combines and other machines and locking it up securely when not in use.

“The busy harvesting season is rapidly approaching. We are very concerned that the gangs committing these thefts will be upping their game.

“Supply chain problems cause long waits for replacement GPS equipment, which leads to serious disruption to farmers and prevents them gathering their crops in prime condition.

“Disrupting worldwide criminal distribution lines for gangs to sell-on stolen GPS equipment is the key to controlling this crime wave, so we’re working closely with police, machinery manufacturers and farmers to make it more difficult for these gangs to operate.”

DC Chris Piggott, from the National Construction and Agri Thefts Team (NCATT), which forms part of the National Rural Crime Unit, added: “Organised and determined criminal gangs are now targeting GPS equipment on farms across the length and breadth of the UK.

“We’re seeing reports of thefts from every part of the UK —not just the arable areas in the east of England— with recent clusters of thefts in North West and North East England and Scotland. It looks as though at least two criminal gangs are currently active.

“They are putting a lot of effort into identifying farm equipment fitted with GPS, watching those farms and even using drones to spot opportunities to return at night. They go to great lengths to get hold of kit, breaking through locked gates and buildings security systems to take GPS from machinery.

“Removing GPS units from your machinery at night and locking it in a well-secured cabinet is the best way to stop these criminals. While it’s inconvenient to spend several minutes removing equipment after a hard day’s work, that’s preferable to losing it to the gangs, with long delays of weeks, or even months, to get hold of replacement units.

“When it’s not practical to remove units from machines because of ongoing work away from the farmstead, try and park up machinery where it can’t be seen easily.

“Either painting or scratching your farm name or post code onto your GPS makes them less attractive to thieves and harder to sell-on.

“Most of the stolen units are going abroad, but some are offered for sale online here. If something is offered cheap, there’s a reason – don’t fuel illegal activity by buying from these adverts.”

Rural Crime lead, Chief Inspector Lee Skelton from Cumbria Constabulary said: “This is not just a national issue, it is something we are seeing here in Cumbria where we have a predominantly rural community.

“We often see criminal groups travelling to our area to target our large farming community and we are proactive in targeting this and work closely with neighbouring forces to tackle the issue.

“Any theft can have a devastating impact, not just through the loss of a high value technology but also the loss of vehicles which are vital in assisting farmers in their everyday working lives.

We would always encourage farmers or any member of the public to take steps to protect their property.”

Security advice can be found here – Rural crime prevention | Cumbria Police

NFU Mutual GPS Security Guide

  • Activate PIN security on GPS kit with your own unique number if available
  • Mark your postcode on the unit’s case 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

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