Farmers risk losing thousands of pounds by underinsuring their livestock, warns an agricultural insurance expert in the wake of a spike in rural crime.

Farmers & Mercantile Insurance Brokers (FMIB) fears many farmers may have gaps in their insurance and may be opting to cover the value of only a proportion of their livestock in a bid to ease the financial pressures they face.

“We have witnessed a series of high-profile incidents in recent weeks involving the illegal butchery and theft of large numbers of sheep,” said Toby Baker, Farmers & Mercantile On Farm Account Executive.

“Although police operations have led to arrests, this recent crime wave should act as a call to action to farmers to not only step up security, but to also make sure their farm insurance provides adequate financial protection.

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“We would advise farmers to cover the value of their full herd or flock to avoid the possibilities of a shortfall should they fall victim to loss.

“Standard farm policies will often include exclusions making it vital to check policy wording carefully. Cover for theft, for example, will sometimes be an optional policy extension, but in cases where sheep have been butchered on-site and their carcasses have been stolen – as has happened of late across Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and Leicestershire – inclusion of this clause for an additional cost can end up saving a farmer thousands of pounds.

“Furthermore, farmers should also remember to keep an accurate and up-to-date record of all their livestock.”

One of the recent victims of professional butchery, Northamptonshire farmer and FMIB client Katie Payne, has told how a lack of insurance could have proved “catastrophic”.

Three Texel ewes and 11 lambs were recently killed and butchered at Park End Farming, owned by Katie and her partner Phil Neal.

“The incident was extremely upsetting for our whole family, particularly for our two young sons who witnessed the aftermath,” she said.

“The distressing emotional impact could have been further compounded by a substantial financial loss had we cut corners and failed to adequately insure our flock. As it was, we were able to immediately claim against our farm policy, supported with kindness and sympathy from Farmers & Mercantile, and receive payment within just a few days.

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“We would advise farmers to treat all risks with equal regard and to clarify with their broker or insurer that their cover is comprehensive. An uninsured financial loss has the potential to irrevocably damage livelihoods.”

Baker added: “It is also vital to ensure, as most farmers are aware, that fields, hedges, fences, walls and gates are well maintained. In addition, livestock should always be tagged to aid identification and to deter thieves.”