Farmers and contractors have been targeted by thieves who stole over €250,000 of GPS guidance equipment over the last 10 days.

At least 16 machinery yards have been hit in the spree, the Irish Farmers Journal can reveal.

The spree began in Cork on the night of Friday 2 February, when it is understood John Deere GPS systems were stolen. Thefts were then reported in Wexford, where three farms were hit, and then northwards to Dublin and Meath areas.

Eight separate premises were broken into across counties Meath and Dublin. Seven of the eight yards were within a 10km radius of Stamullen.

In recent days, further yards in Kilkenny and Wexford were targeted, with the losses reported to be in the region of €50,000 in Kilkenny and €40,000 in Wexford.

The thefts appear to be clearly planned and executed with precision. Twelve tractors owned by seven tillage farmers within a 10km radius of each other were targeted over three nights. John Deere, New Holland and Case IH tractors were hit, with John Deere, Trimble and Topcon receivers and screens stolen.

The thieves were armed with the correct tools to open various bolt heads, including specific allen key heads. Where tractors were locked, door locks were broken, farmers told the Irish Farmers Journal. However, they are believed to have also brought John Deere keys with them.

The thieves were caught on CCTV on some of the premises. Footage shows the thieves entering the yards on foot through nearby fields. In many of the farms, the thieves carefully examined each of the tractors, knew exactly what they wanted and where in a tractor all items were located.

They also rejected several GPS systems behind, with their victims agreeing that it was clear that the thieves were stealing items to order.

The thieves were that braising, they robbed this technology off the tractors which were parked just 60ft away from the farmers bedroom window.

Case studies

One farmer, whom the Irish Farmers Journal visited, showed us how the thieves had examined each of his three Case IH and New Holland tractors, unscrewing the cover on each where the NAV guidance controller is positioned.

Despite being clearly visible in his tractors, the thieves left older screens, implement screens and control boxes from Pöttinger, Comfort and APV, untouched, as were high-value tools in the tractor cabs, such as Milwaukee impact guns.

Despite a Case IH Optum 300 CVX being locked, and the dome safely stored away off the farm, the thieves forced entry and robbed the tractor’s own IsoBus screen and the NAV guidance controller.

The cost of replacing the unit and repairing cut wires will cost €15,000.

The brazen thieves stole this technology from the tractors which were parked just 60ft away from the farmer’s bedroom window.

In many cases, the tractor’s own display monitor was stolen, completely disabling the machines.

Video footage of the hooded thieves in Co Meath, seen by the Irish Farmers Journal, shows the intruder looking at a Massey Ferguson, walking around the tractor, before taking out his/her phone. It appears that contact was made with a third party to see if this system was required.

The thieves then left that tractor alone, despite being fitted with a full autosteer system. They spent an hour in the yard, moving from shed to shed, leaving with a screen from a New Holland valued at €5,000 plus VAT.

A third farm we visited in Co Meath was one of three yards which has been hit twice in the last year.

The yard gate was locked, and is located off the main road. Despite the farmer’s father living 20 yards from where the tractors were parked, John Deere GPS technology was stolen last year, and again last week.

While the farmer had the receivers safely stored off farm, the thieves stole three John Deere 4600 Gen 4 screens, worth €4,500 each. His three tractors are completely disabled until new screens are fitted.

A Case IH receiver was also stolen, valued at €2,500 from the same farm.

Similar to other farms, other Lemken and Amazone implement screens and an older GPS receiver in this yard were left behind.

Another contractor who was targeted in Co Meath had two John Deere receivers and the main screen in his John Deere 6155R stolen, amounting to €10,000.

A recently purchased John Deere locking mechanism was pried open by the thieves. These tractors were locked and parked beside his parents’ house. This contractor had a receiver and a screen stolen last year as well, which cost €6,500 to replace.

Farmer fears

Victims of the crime spree who spoke to the Irish Farmers Journal this week pointed out that this is a relatively quiet time on tillage farms and that many have their GPS systems, or partial elements of the systems safely stored away.

However, when the busy planting season kicks off and farmers may be working up to 20-hour days in short weather windows, it’s not uncommon for tractors to be left in fields overnight.

Many of the farmers targeted are potato growers, and all expressed serious fears about having four or five tractors fully loaded with technology left in fields overnight, away from their yards.

They outlined fears that if this spree continues, they may be left unable to plant crops if they are targeted again. They are also concerned that machinery dealers don’t have enough kit in stock to get them going. Outside of the thefts themselves, farmers fear significant damage to machines, as well as risk of machine failure and inability to access data networks as an aftermath.

Despite the farmer's father living 20 yards from where the tractors were parked, John Deere GPS technology was stolen last year, and again last week year.

One farmer explained: “The GPS thefts are almost as bad as diesel thefts. We used to put locking caps on the diesel tanks, but thieves would just drill a hole in the tank, leading to even more damage. Even when the tractors were locked, it didn’t deter the thieves, it just led them to cause even more damage to the machines.”

The thieves carefully examined each of the tractors, knew exactly what they wanted and where in a tractor all items were located.

Three of the seven farmers targeted were also targeted 12 months prior to this recent incident. On that occasion, GPS systems, a quad and a jeep were stolen. This recent cluster of thefts is causing serious concern within the industry, and could add further cost through rising insurance premiums.

Where tractors were locked, door locks were broken.

Are manufacturers doing enough?

All of the farmers targeted are up in arms that manufacturers aren’t doing enough for their farmer and contractor customers.

Similar to above, other implement screens and an older GPS dome in tractors and others in the yards weren’t touched.

“We have paid a lot of money to invest in GPS guidance technology and our farms rely on this technology for the accurate sowing of crops and to precisely apply inputs such as fertiliser and sprays. These GPS systems can pinpoint our location down to 2.5cm and they remember our exact AB lines on our fields year in, year out,” said a spokesperson for a group of the affected farmers.

When the annual licence renewal approaches, a countdown appears on the screens

“If we have a problem, the dealers can pinpoint our exact location without us having to tell them.

“When the annual licence renewal approaches, a countdown appears on the screens.

“With modern technology, we can’t understand why manufacturers don’t have the ability to trace these systems when they are being used again by whoever is stealing them, whether that be in Ireland or overseas,” the spokesperson said.

Ongoing thefts

Last year, the Irish Farmers Journal reported several incidents of stolen GPS guidance systems across the country. Like in recent days, four farmers/contractors targeted in one night in the Rosslare area.

The devices, which were mostly GPS receivers and screens, were stolen from tractors, while additional machine control devices were also stolen.

It’s believed the ongoing thefts are planned operations, with units being stolen to order, with a strong re-sale market for units in some parts of the world.

As previously reported by the Irish Farmers Journal, 80 GPS units stolen from across Europe were seized from a Lithuanian criminal gang by British police in 2021.

A separate stolen Irish unit resurfaced for sale on a Mexican classified site.

Separately, the Irish Farmers Journal understands that one Irish dealer was contacted by a US John Deere dealer to ask if they had sold units to America, as they were the dealer the serial number was traced back to.

It’s not just farmers and contractors who are being targeted; dealers are also falling victim.

As we previously reported, a Kildare tractor dealer had thieves come into his premises posing as interested buyers in broad daylight, before cutting the wires and stealing a Topcon Autoguide receiver and a Datatronic 4 terminal off a Massey Ferguson 7726, which cost over €6,000 to replace.

GPS thefts rampant in Europe

Hero Dijkema from Cumela, the Dutch agricultural and rural contractors association, said that GPS thefts are rampant across the Netherlands. In 2022, there were 197 GPS systems stolen from Dutch contractors which came to a total monetary value of €1.18m.

The Irish Farmers Journal visited one French contractor who had 23 John Deere guidance systems stolen from his yard, over two separate thefts at a significant cost of €100,000.

He told the Irish Farmers Journal that the only way he can keep the systems safe is by taking them off every tractor every night, and that he can’t see any other solution at the moment.

The Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors of Ireland (FCI) recently participated in the European Confederation of Agricultural, Rural and Forestry Contractors survey, where it profiled the number of GPS system thefts from contractors only.

The data shows that in 2023, almost 500 units were stolen from contractors in five European countries.

Outside of the thefts themselves, farmers fear of significant damage to machines, as well as risk of machine failure and inability to access data networks as an aftermath.

Check your insurance

Dealers are strongly advising farmers and contractors who have machines fitted with GPS technology to be extra vigilant.

Machines should be securely parked and GPS equipment should be removed after use and brought home when and where possible.

Farmers and contractors need to also double check their insurance details when it comes to GPS equipment. Depending on the level of specification on the GPS guidance systems, their value could very easily surpass €10,000.

IFA to hold public meeting

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) and the Fingal Farmers group is planning a public meeting on 1 March following the spate of thefts. It will take place in the City North Hotel and focus on policing and crime in the north Dublin area.

In a statement, the IFA claimed that it was criminal gangs targeting the goods, which amounted to around €100,000.

The thefts left these three tractors completely disabled on this farm until new screens were fitted.

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