Farmers are being advised to increase vehicle security following a spate of 20 high-value tractors thefts in Staffordshire and Shropshire.
The high-value tractors and telehandlers thefts which occurred in August are being investigated by the police and the National Rural Crime Unit (NRCU).
A highly-organised criminal gang is thought to be responsible for the thefts, according to the NRCU.
It is thought the gang is identifying farms owning recently-bought expensive tractors and loaders and are using the motorway network to move them out of the country to sell in Eastern Europe and beyond.
Urging farmers to increase vehicle security, NFU Mutual said it was one of the worst spates of high-value agricultural vehicle theft it had dealt with in a specific area.
Bob Henderson, head of engineering at the rural insurer, said: “We’re providing security advice to farmers in the two counties to help them secure their properties.
"We’re also working closely with the rural policing unit supported by NFU Mutual to help detect the gang responsible.
“These tractor thefts show we need to up our game to keep thieves at bay.”
Superintendent Andy Huddleston, who leads the newly-formed NRCU, said it was clear that the thefts were the work of a highly-organised criminal group.
He said: “Unusually the machinery being stolen are newer pieces of kit – some costing around £100,000 to replace. A number of stolen tractors and loaders have been recovered after being left in secluded areas.
"This indicates that the criminals are leaving stolen machinery for a few days to avoid the risk of detection if a tracking device is fitted to the machines.
“The thieves are very likely to be moving stolen vehicles out of the UK and selling them on in Eastern Europe."
Specialist teams such as the NRCU have been established to co-ordinate action across all UK police forces and pursue investigations abroad.
With the exception of some brands, many modern tractors and loaders are difficult to steal when keys are removed and locked away and the vehicles’ security devices are activated.
Superintendent Huddleston said: "Additional basic security measures such as locking yard gates, having security lights, using motion detector alarms and CCTV we know does deter thieves and is worth doing.”
NFU Mutual’s latest statistics show that the cost of agricultural vehicle claims soared 29% to £11.7m in 2022 as gangs cashed in on the rising cost and limited supply of vehicles and machinery.
How can I secure my machinery?
The rural insurer has provided farmers a tractor and large agricultural vehicle security checklist:
• Close and lock yard gates at night to deter drive-through thieves
• Keep vehicle keys locked up securely at a separate location
• Check security lighting, alarms and cameras are working correctly and update if necessary
• Avoid leaving vehicles where they can be easily seen from near-by roads
• Consider infra-red beam alarms, CCTV and floodlighting to protect farm yards
• Join a local farm watch group or WhatsApp network to keep updated about local rural crime trends and suspicious sightings
• Fit trackers and immobilisers to deter thieves and aid recovery of stolen pick-ups
• Use the CESAR marking and registration system