Organised gangs of criminals are targeting tractors and agricultural vehicles in Northamptonshire to then ship out to Eastern Europe, farmers have been told.
The warning was given to local farmers at a meeting on Monday night, where they were told quad bikes, Land Rovers, trailers and other pieces of machinery are also been targeted.
Across Northamptonshire, 12 “large” pieces of farming machinery have been stolen from farms in the last six months, putting the county fifth in the UK in terms of large thefts.
Police told farmers many of the items, which can be worth tens of thousands of pounds, are often traced to Poland, Ukraine and other countries in Eastern Europe.
Gangs from Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Coventry and elsewhere in the East Midlands are thought to be behind many of the thefts.
Tractors are then commonly loaded onto a curtain-sided lorry, usually three at a time, and shipped to the continent. Police, together with the insurer NFU Mutual, have managed to trace 28 tractors stolen from across the country to Poland.
Smaller items, including quad bikes and other vehicles often kept at farms, are usually broken up and sold on, often on eBay.
DC Chris Ruff, from the national vehicle crime unit, told farmers the rising costs of machinery across the UK and abroad was making the secondhand market “buoyant”.
He said: “Typically agricultural machinery is taken from farm premises and left for a short period in woods or a disused car park for a haulier to be arranged to put them on a curtain sided lorry and they will head to the docks and then go across to the continent.”
He said Land Rovers were also “hot” property for thieves, as they could be unbolted, taken apart and shipped out of the country.
Sergeant Mark McDonnell, from Northamptonshire Police, added: “Tractors aren’t stolen on a whim. It is organised crime and they are stolen along arterial routes. We have a strategy but it relies on people protecting their property and protecting their community by reporting things to us.”