New figures from the rural insurance branch of the National Farmers Union (NFU Mutual) show that the cost of GPS theft in the UK has doubled in the first four months of 2023 compared to the same period last year.

The insurer has now issued a security alert to farmers to alert them that GPS systems have become one of the most targeted pieces of farm equipment for thieves.

April saw GPS thefts hit the second-highest monthly level ever, according to NFU Mutual, and it has urged farmers to review their security as harvest approaches to avoid becoming a victim.

Lead of NFU Mutual’s agricultural engineering field team, Bob Henderson, 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.”

Henderson said disrupting “worldwide criminal distribution lines” for gangs to sell-on stolen GPS equipment is the key to controlling the current crime wave.

He said that NFU Mutual is currently working closely with police, machinery manufacturers and farmers to “make it more difficult for these gangs to operate”.

GPS theft

NFU Mutual has released a ‘GPS security guide’ to help farmers protect their equipment and avoid becoming victims of GPS theft.

The protective steps include:

  • 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.

Leader of the national rural crime unit, Supt. Andrew Huddleston, said: “Organised and determined criminal gangs are now targeting GPS equipment on farms across the length and breadth of the UK, with five thefts in Kent in the last week alone.

“These criminal gangs 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.”

Huddleston said removing GPS units from machinery at night and locking it in well-secured cabinets is the best way to prevent thefts.

“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,” he said.

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

Huddleston urged farmers and those living in rural areas to share any information relating to suspicious vehicles moving around at any time of the day.

“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,” he warned.