Published Wednesday, 29 January 2014
PSNI say many rural crimes are ''opportunistic''. (© UTV)
Organised crime gangs are being blamed for a hike in countryside crime, stealing valuable machinery and livestock - often to order.
Some tractors stolen in Northern Ireland have even turned up as far away as New Zealand.
The vehicles are expensive to purchase, but as modern workhorses, they are crucial to farm businesses and represent major investments which livelihoods depend on.
Ballynahinch farmer John Coulter talked to UTV about the impact of having a tractor and a tanker stolen from his property.
"I'm not going to let it beat me, but it does affect you," he said.
"My neighbours have been a great support and offered to lend me machinery or to help in any way they could.
"But if a stranger comes into the yard, I'd now be wary whereas before I loved to see people."
But it is Co Armagh that seems to be worst affected, with some saying the level of thefts has reached epidemic proportions.
In Keady, many local farms have been targeted by thieves despite the existence of a Neighbourhood Watch scheme run by Adrian McKinney.
The protection isn't that high to be truthful, there's a resentment there that (farmers) aren't getting the protection that they deserve from the PSNI.
Adrian McKinney, Keady Neighbourhood Watch
"Lack of patrols and policing in the area is an incentive to say 'we'll just drive it down the road and over the border and that's it'," he said.
Keady, like many other small rural villages, has recently had its police station closed down - leaving communities concerned that they are now unprotected.
Mr McKinney explained there are concerns that some may take the law into their own hands.
"I've heard the word vigilante used here for the first time, and I'm here about 14 years and I've never heard language like that before. Tensions are really high, it is not in my opinion the right way to go - two wrongs don't make a right," he added.
"My fear is that the innocent farmer would end up being the guilty party and doesn't deserve that for trying to protect his livelihood."
Police in Armagh have been responding to criticism by stepping up patrols, and some stolen machinery has been recovered in the last week.
The PSNI insists that, right across Northern Ireland, the resources are available to crack down on rural crime.
"I believe that the vast majority of crime against the farming community is taken by opportunistic thieves, people who see the opportunity to steal a tractor, steal a quad, steal tools from the farm, but undoubtedly there are some crimes that require a degree of organisation," Brian McKee from PSNI's Rural Crime Unit explained.
"There are rural neighbourhood policing team officers covering every rural area of Northern Ireland and those local officers are backed up by their colleagues."
Those in urban areas may feel like they are the easy targets for crime, but even those in the seemingly idyllic countryside are being forced to increase their security.
© UTV News