Given the steady rise in robotic farm machinery, how far are we away from the day when IT-savvy thieves will electronically summon moving items of equipment by remotely accessing their IT systems, guiding them towards a “get-away” vehicle and simply driving off with them?
This is one of the “future of rural crime” points made in the latest release of farm theft figures published by the NFU Mutual, which says the cost of rural crime to the UK economy has now reached £42.5 million a year.
While there has been little change in terms of total crime costs for farmers over the last 12 months, the new report highlights the constant evolving of ingenuity on the part of thieves and the extent to which farmers are having to act to protect their stock, equipment and other possessions.
“We have seen a shift, for example, in the items being targeted at rural homes,” said the Mutual’s Tim Price, adding that the latest figures showed the theft of garden equipment as the biggest growing trend along with 4x4s.
The company’s agents also reported that thieves are becoming more sophisticated in the way they operate, with cyber-crime being a growing concern in many rural communities.
“Tactics now include cloning tractor identities, advertising non-existent machinery in agricultural publications and stealing the GPS computer systems which are a key part of modern farming,” said Mr Price. “As a result, farmers are having to regularly update security measures at considerable cost to keep high-tech criminals at bay.”
That means farmers are having to use tracker devices on tractors, video and infra-red surveillance in their farm yards and even DNA markers to protect stock from rustlers.
On the question of vehicle systems in the future being hacked into, causing them to drive away of their own accord, the Mutual added: “Criminals are taking advantage of new technology to commit crime and we must embrace new technology to meet that challenge.
“Social media is now the main resource for sharing information about crime in rural communities and it can be a valuable tool, not only for the prevention of rural crime but also catching criminals and returning stolen goods. While technology will undoubtedly play an increasing part in future rural policing and security, it’s the people behind it, namely farmers, who will be the key drivers to beating rural crime.”