Thefts from farms are down to experienced professionals

The only certainty about British weather is its uncertainty and that any long spell of good weather tends to end dramatically.

Thursday, 14th August 2014, 6:50 am

That happened again at the weekend, although in spite of torrential rain and strong winds the north of England and the Borders got off relatively lightly compared with what the tail end of hurricane Bertha did to the south of England. However, even that tail end inflicted some damage on standing crops in our area. The forecast now is for a cool, showery rest of August. We shall see.

Compared with the genuine horrors of the world – deaths in Gaza, massacres in Iraq, fighting in Ukraine, Ebola virus, to take a random recent news bulletin – damage to grain crops from the last gasps of a hurricane should be put in perspective. But it’s human nature to worry most about what’s happening closer to home and that can be horrifying enough as with last week’s death of a teenager on a Borders farm, suffocated in a grain silo.

If age and experience hadn’t inured me to irony and coincidence both terms might have been used to note that the death, not long after the death of Lauder farmer Jim Sharp in a grain store, was in the same week that a farm safety partnership was announced between the Scottish government, NFU Scotland, NFU Mutual insurance and the Health and Safety Executive. “Working together to save lives” will try to prevent further additions to the almost 80 deaths – men, women and children – on Scottish farms in the past ten years. Not forgetting those, many of them, who have been badly injured, crippled or paralysed.

By the nature of modern farming, with increasing reliance on machinery and fewer human beings, many of these deaths and crippling accidents happen when someone is working alone. No one else will ever know precisely what happened and it would be wrong to apportion blame. But every single one of us involved with anything to do with a farm must be more aware of the inherent dangers of falls, animals, transport and equipment (FATE is the useful reminder) of any kind. Please.

The loneliness and stretched resources of many sectors of modern farming is also, without doubt, behind the steady increase in rural crime. Up another five per cent last year to cost the industry more than £44 million, the biggest increase has been in stealing livestock. At one time an occasional sheep might disappear from a field, taken by an opportunistic criminal. Now more than 100 sheep and several dozen cattle at a time are being taken. That’s organised and professional by experienced stockmen/women. They must also have immediate outlets, as do those stealing tractors and quad bikes.

Farm fuel tanks have long beeen a target, but, worryingly, chemicals and fertilisers are increasingly being stolen. As with the livestock, that suggests professionals who know exactly what they’re looking for and have a black market buyer or are stealing to order. There’s no doubt that fewer people on farms are making theft of any kind easier.