An estimated 137,000 farmers have been the victims of crime, with 73,000 more than once.

Yet new Harper Adams University research suggests there is much the police, insurers and the media can do to tackle the enduring problem of rural crime.

Eroding confidence

A lack of consistency in how police define and report farm crime from area to area is proving a barrier, while 80% of farmers felt the police are not doing enough to get to grips with the issue.

A lack of confidence in law enforcement is reflected by the fact that 32% of farm crime is not reported to the police. In addition, just 40% of incidents are reported to insurers.

Small and isolated farms are more vulnerable to crime, while the presence of people on the farm seems to make little difference to the likelihood of crime occurring.

Not all farmers are employing deterrence measures, with cost and time cited as key factors in a reticence to take action. Yet generally, they accept that protecting farms is getting easier.

Female and younger farmers were found to be more proactive when it comes to taking security precautions, and in seeking advice outside the agricultural community.

The research also highlights the considerable psychological impact of such crime on farmers. Eroding trust towards strangers and even friends, fear of being targeted again, and sleepless nights had prompted some to leave the industry altogether.

Communication was also found to be a major barrier to crime resolution and prevention. Police may believe that farmers are resistant to change but many farmers also said they believed police officers see them as ‘second-class citizens’.

As a result, there was a lack of engagement with crime prevention approaches and low levels of crime reporting to the police.

It is suggested that learnings from behavioural science could prove a successful alternative to ‘business as usual’ in dealing with farm crime.

For example, trusted messengers offering information on effective crime prevention tailored to individual farms could have a greater impact, while more adequate and complete information from the police on crime prevention could also increase counter-measures.

As it stands, crime prevention information is often sourced online, but this advice can be generic and will not necessarily be effective on an individual farm.

The report also highlighted a fear of cybercrime – emphasising that crime prevention is not just about physical property.

'The status quo is not working'

Dr. Kreseda Smith, the report’s author, said: “This research on farm crime paints a pretty bleak picture, and from talking to farmers, it’s clear that the status quo is not working.

"While cost, time, and inconvenience is putting off action against potential crime, there is a high awareness that prevention strategies are important.

Barriers urgently need to be overcome between those in the farming sector, police and insurers – and a greater understanding of what drives farmer crime prevention decision-making and behaviour is an essential part of this.

"This report should be a wake-up call for all those with a role to play in reducing farm crime, and the fear of it. It is a vital part of keeping people in the farming and agribusiness sector.”