The theft of farm equipment and machinery is a constant source of concern for farmers, particularly in the darker winter months.

However, there are things you can do to protect yourself, your property, and your belongings.

Agriland spoke to Garda Sgt. Graham Kavanagh this week to find out more about the trends he observes in cases of farmyard thefts, and what steps farmers can take.

Sgt. Kavanagh is a crime prevention officer working in counties Laois and Offaly.

He said that the incidence rate of burglaries effecting both homes and farms increases this time of year.

“Generally, we see farmyards being targeted for equipment. That’s done in the darkness of night and this is the time of year we would see that happen a bit more. That’s generally between 5:00p.m and 11:00p.m, with 5:00p.m to 9:00p.m being the riskier period,” he said.

As a crime prevention officer, Sgt. Kavanagh works with farmer representative bodies and community alert groups to get the message out about what farmers can do to protect their property.

“People always assume that it’s going to cost them money when I start talking to them because I am going to be telling them to buy things. A lot of the time it’s not that. A lot of times it’s just trying to change habits. It’s the things you can do around the farmyard that don’t cost you anything except maybe time.”

He said that it is still common for keys to be left in vehicles on farmyards during the night.

Sgt. Kavanagh also highlighted the benefits of a properly lit farmyard.

He said: “I know there is an energy crisis and people are using the excuse that light costs money. Lighting is probably one of the cheapest things you can do and it’s a great deterrent. If you have a farm in the middle of nowhere the lighting is helping you see out. Criminals don’t like to work under light.”

The crime prevention officer urged farmers to create “layers” that criminals have to get through to get at property. Other key steps farmers should consider are placing GPS trackers and particular markings on their property in the event something is stolen.

Property is generally marked with Eircodes, but it can be any sort of marking that is unique to the owner.

This makes the property “less marketable and makes is identifiable”, Sgt. Kavanagh explained.

Many Garda divisions have property marking machines, but a machine isn’t necessary; the property owner can do the marking themeselves by using tools to etch, grind or weld a unique mark on the equipment.

The sergeant also urged farmers to keep things like quads or trailers locked up so they cannot be simply driven away.

Keep it near the farm

He noted that sometimes farmers will leave equipment, such as rollers or toppers, in a field that could be several miles from the farm holding, sometimes going weeks or even months before seeing again – at which point it could be gone.

“It’s about trying to get people to store that back at the farm holding, back where the yard is, where you can see it everyday, so you’re not discovering three weeks or three months down the road that it has disappeared,” Sgt. Kavanagh said.

For livestock, this is, of course, not possible, and this is where the community aspect comes in.

“You’re depending on neighbours or people nearby, that if they hear or see anything suspicious, that they are ringing you straight away and they’re telling us [the Gardaí].”

“We are depending on communities to work with us, and gathering CCTV and trying to track the movements of vehicles that are involved,” Sgt. Kavanagh commented.

Back at the yard, he urged farmers to control access to their property by making sure gates are closed when the farm is not in use.

He also highlighted the Garda property recording app, which allows property owners to photograph their belongings, which can be shared with Gardaí if something is taken.

Sgt. Kavanagh also noted that there are several vehicle security companies that can provide alarm systems for farm vehicles.

Reporting incidents

He called on farmers to report any incidents to the Gardaí, saying: “It’s more effective when we are working together and getting involved in community alerts, getting information out in real time as it’s happening, so we have text alert schemes for that.

“But whatever means you have, if something goes on, it’s that you ring 999, you report it to us immediately no matter how innocuous you may think it is. It could prevent someone being targeted in your area,” he added.

“The one thing we need to be able to do is get information out to communities so they can react to it then and they can report it then, and if criminals are seen going through an area, it’s less inviting for them to be there.”

Many farms these days have CCTV around the farm, which farmers pay particular attention to during calving season. Sgt. Kavanagh urged farmers to use the CCTV all year around for additional farm security.

The cameras should be cleaned regularly so the image is high quality.

However, if intruders do enter a farmyard, you should not confront them.

“We never encourage people to go out and tackle these individuals themselves. It’s about ringing 999 and getting [the Gardaí]. So if there’s people in the yard, let us react to it.”

The crime prevention officer also called on farmers to consider storing their equipment in concrete sheds, ideally with a metal door, which could be locked properly and alarmed.

He emphasised again that, if something does happen, people need to report it.

“If crime happens or suspicious activity is going on in the area, you need to report that, and 999 is the number you need to be ringing.

“We police where we see there is a problem, so if there is a problem in your area that is not being reported, you won’t get the policing that you think you’re going to get.”

At this time of year with the dark evenings, when farmers are finished work of an evening, the sergeant urged them to think: “What do they target? What can they steal from me? What can I do to make that harder to take?

“It’s about securing it better, keeping it nearer to the farmyard, locking it up in a shed if you can, and blocking it,” Sgt. Kavanagh stressed.