A rise in rural crime cost the Northern Ireland economy an estimated £2.6 million (€2.9 million) last year, latest figures show.
A new rural crime report compiled by NFU Mutual, one of the UK’s largest rural insurance firms, suggest there was a £100,000 year-on-year increase in the cost of certain rural crimes including thefts of animals and machinery in the North.
The increase in Northern Ireland mirrors a national trend across the UK, according to NFU Mutual, which said the cost of rural crime hit its highest level in five years during 2017.
It estimates that farming communities and rural businesses in the UK suffered total losses of £44.5 million last year.
Commenting on the rise in rural crime, James O'Brien, the Ulster Farmers' Union's legislation chairman, said: "Criminals are sophisticated in the homes and businesses they target. They are selective about what they take and will not think twice about targeting the same farm again, sometimes within days. The net result is that across all rural areas people now feel isolated and vulnerable in their own homes."
The UFU is concerned that rural crimes and the impact it has on rural communities are “not treated with sufficient seriousness” .
It said farmers in Northern Ireland are limited when it comes to protecting their property and that when rural communities are targeted the crimes are “far from victimless”.
The UFU believes initiatives in the North such as trailer marking, freeze branding livestock and the use of tracker devices on tractors and other machinery, together with a greater focus from the Police Service of Northern Ireland on rural crime, is helping but more still needs to be done.
The UFU believes there is evidence to show that farmers are victims of organised criminal gangs, which specifically target machinery and livestock.
In the past, the farming organisation has said the “land border with the Republic of Ireland makes it easier for criminals to escape”.