An organised gang may be behind a sharp rise in tractor thefts in West Norfolk, police believe.
Six tractors have been stolen from farms and fields around the Lynn and Downham areas in less than two months and police are linking them and believe they may be being stolen in order to be exported abroad.
Insp Mick Bates, of Downham police, said: “We speculate that one gang is involved. We haven’t had a spate of tractor thefts for some time and then to get six in a couple of months is not coincidental.”
The latest incident was in St John’s Fen End on Wednesday night when a vintage tractor was stolen from a barn.
The theft was the third of its kind to be reported in the borough in a week.
Thieves drove a Massey Ferguson from a field in Old Church Road, Terrington St John, and loaded it onto a trailer overnight on Thursday, February 7.
A tractor and trailer were taken from a barn in Wisbech Road, Outwell, between Saturday and Monday, February 9 and 11.
Batteries and tools were loaded onto the trailer but abandoned the tractor when it failed to start.
Another was then taken from the barn before the raiders drove off.
And two other tractors were taken from a outbuilding in Common Lane, North Runcton, between January 25 and February 2.
Tractor thefts cost the agricultural industry millions of pounds each year. Insurer, the NFU forked out £4.5 million in the first nine months of 2012 and Insp Bates is warning farmers to be on their guard.
He said: “Older tractors are maybe seen as the easiest to steal as they perhaps do not have the security devices.
“One thing we would ask the local farming community to do is to take security precautions.
“If they could think about where they are leaving their tractors. If they can put them in locked buildings and make it hard for thieves. “Definitely don’t leave the keys in the ignition.”
NFU Farmwatch co-ordinator Tony Bone says stealing tractors is big business and that this have been an ongoing problem for two or three years.
Mr Bone said: “A lot of them turn up in Poland and places like that.
“We are aware of the situation and what tends to happen is that they are stolen in twos and threes. They get usually get in touch with a lorry driver over here doing deliveries and present them with the tractors to take back and false paper work.
“The NFU has worked hard on this and is paying for a policeman in Poland. He recovers tractors and brings them back.”
Chairman of the Downham branch of the NFU Ed Lankfer said some farmers are fitting immobilisers or trackers but sometimes have no choice but to leave things in a field.
He said: “Theft is always something at the back of your mind. You do your best to make sure everything is locked up.
“There are always going to be those sort of people out there and you rely on the police to keep on top of it.
“We need the tractors now as we are pushed. If you are going through the insurance it takes time. With the way the weather is going we need to work now.”
The Downham branch will be having a talk by Becky Collins from NFU Mutual about security at Ryston Park Golf tomorrow (Wednesday) at 7.30pm.
Farmers who have had tractors stolen could be waiting three months for a new machine to built by the manufacturer.
Roy Pickett, from John Deere dealership, Doubledays, said: “Farmers are taking a lot more notice of security.
“It is a growing problem and farmers are being more vigilant. Hopefully that will help.”