Russian troops have reportedly stolen farm machinery worth nearly €5m from a dealership in war-torn Ukraine.
The incident was small scale compared with the fierce ongoing conflict following Russia’s invasion of a country known as the breadbasket of Europe.
However, it clearly underlined the importance of farmers always properly securing their expensive machinery.
CNN reported that Russian soldiers in Ukraine transported the stolen high-end tractors, combine harvesters and other machines from Melitopol to Chechnya 700 miles away.
A total of 27 machines were taken. But the heist ultimately failed because of the space age technology now driving precision farming world-wide.
The stolen vehicles were equipped with GPS, the satellite based navigational system, and were tracked to the Chechen capital, Grozny, and a nearby village.
But that was not all. The combine harvesters didn't work, according to CNN, because they had been locked remotely.
The failure of the Russians to use the machines underlined the importance of dealers, contractors and farmers using high-tech mechanisms to secure their property.
Ireland is no exception to the stealing of farm machinery, vehicles, livestock, and metal including telephone and electric cables.
There have been close to 70 incidents of cable theft nationwide, primarily in rural locations, over the past six months.
Significantly, there have also been recent reports of GPS tractor guidance systems in North Dublin, Westmeath, and Meath.
Farmers generally use the satellite mapping technology to help improve yields by understanding their land better.
GPS theft is regarded an international crime, with countries across the globe experiencing attempts to sell stolen equipment back into the farming sector.
Farmers are regularly urged to remove GPS kit from combined and tractors when it’s not in use and to store it securely.
A surge in GPS thefts from farm machinery has also been reported by a number of police forces in Britain, where the overall rural crime cost an estimated £43.3m in 2020, a decrease of 20% on the previous year, due it is thought to the Covid-19 lockdown.
However, highly organised criminals continued to plague farmyards, stealing GPS units, quad bikes, machinery, and other property. The cost of farm vehicle theft reported to the insurance provider NFU Mutual remained at over £9m.
In Ireland, farm thefts generally occur in spring and autumn, which may be related to peak farming activity. But they can take place at any time.
Gardaí have advised farmers to store farm tools and smaller machinery in secure buildings close to the farmhouse, restrict access to their farmyard, install gates and keep them locked.
Farmers are also advised to photograph machinery and keep a detailed record of their make, serial number and colour.
The National Metal Theft Forum, established by An Garda Síochána in 2012, brings together various stakeholders.
Among them are local authorities, the Department of Justice, and industry representatives. The aim is to improve information sharing and develop a metal theft prevention and crime reduction plan.
Garda Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll, speaking in 2019, said metal theft can affect everyone.
Specifically, stealing metal from ESB Networks' equipment causes power cuts which impact on families, businesses, and the economy in general.
He urged any person to contact the gardaí immediately if they are aware of suspicious activity taking place close to an electrical installation on their land.
People involved in the purchase or resale of metal products were advised to ask appropriate questions and report unusual sources.
If people purchase stolen property, they might be inadvertently facilitating criminal activity and committing an offence.
Assistant Commissioner O’Driscoll called on members of the public and, in particular, the farming community with overhead power lines on their land, to be vigilant of suspicious activity.
He urged them to come forward with any information they may have on metal theft and people engaged in this illegal activity.
Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) president Pat McCormack recently accused successive Governments of a split-personality attitude to regulation and enforcement that “is gradually wearing down the decent majority”.
He said it was absolutely infuriating to be reading again about an epidemic of theft right across rural areas aimed at harvesting valuable metals from communication cables.
Farmers and others had lived through an epidemic of similar thefts over a decade ago when certain metals fetched prices similar to those being obtained now, He said the ICMSA has repeatedly called for a law or regulation forbidding scrap dealers paying in cash for such metals without the sellers confirming their identity and addresses by official documentation.
Despite assurances and a high-profile public debate on the matter, nothing meaningful had been done and “here we are again, more than a decade later with probably the same thieves selling the same type of stolen materials to probably the same buyers.”
Mr McCormack said the State’s inability to keep a register of who was buying and selling stolen metals contrasted with its hyper-efficiency in monitoring how much fertiliser a farmer can buy.