An international wave of tractor GPS thefts has prompted rural insurers NFU Mutual to issue a warning to buyers of second-hand kit.
Criminals are reported to be targeting guidance equipment worth £8,000 and more, which is in turn creating disruption on farms at harvest time.
In the UK thefts have spread from East Anglia to the whole country, and NFU Mutual say that in recent weeks NaVCIS, the police agricultural vehicle theft co-ordination organisation, was alerted almost daily to multiple GPS thefts from farms and machinery dealers.
NFU Mutual is now appealing to farmers who are offered second-hand systems to check serial numbers and to be wary of any GPS equipment that has had stickers removed.
Bob Henderson, the insurer’s technical engineering manager, said: “Having tractor GPS kit stolen during harvest is hugely disruptive. Not only do replacement units – which can cost £8,000 and more – have to be sourced, fitted and programmed, but modern farms can’t work effectively during the vital harvesting period without them.
“As the main insurer of the UK’s farmers, we are working with police and tractor manufacturers to tackle this worrying new crime trend.”
John Deere StarFire receivers and cab display units appear to be the thieves’ brand of choice, although other systems are also being stolen.
John Deere has a system enabling farmers to call their local dealership to check a serial number, and the company has also included a PIN security feature in its latest StarFire system – but not all thefts are reported to it, so it says it cannot guarantee that equipment offered for sale online has not been stolen.
Superintendent Andy Huddleston, the national police lead for agricultural machinery and vehicle thefts, said: “Making careful checks on the provenance of any GPS kit offered for sale outside the dealer network can stop criminals making money from these crimes and halt the surge.
“The service introduced by John Deere dealers makes these checks easier by enabling farmers to quickly check if a StarFire serial number is on their database of stolen systems.”