Leading rural insurer NFU Mutual is urging farmers to check their fire precautions and have emergency plans in place, as the UK cost of devastation caused by farm fires reached a five-year high of £49m last year.

Electrical faults accounted for over half the total last year, followed by arson which rose by 40 per cent nationally to £9m.

Farm fires cost the North-East £7.6m in 2019, making it the second worst-affected region by cost in the UK, following the Midlands with fire claims totalling £13.2m.

Additional analysis from the insurer indicates that 2020 is on track to see an even higher number of incidents and costs, in a year that saw farmers battle unforgiving weather which led to a poor harvest.

“Farm fires put the lives of people and livestock at risk as well as having a huge emotional and business impact on farmers and their families” said Andy Manson, managing director of NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Ltd (RMS), which has a team of experts who carry out risk assessments for farms and provides health and safety advice.

“The scale of the damage we are seeing shows it’s more important than ever to reduce the risk of a fire.

“Farmers not only have to be mindful of the usual farm hazards such as electrical equipment, combustible material and fuel but also protect themselves from the alarming rise in arson damage.

“Many farmers are feeling particularly vulnerable this year and with straw in short supply after the poor harvest, more and more are using remote camera systems linked to mobile phones as well as fencing off straw stacks and farm buildings to discourage arsonists.”

Fires caused by electrical faults totalled £25m in the UK last year.

Operating in harsh environments, farm electrical systems often get wet, hot or dusty leading to short circuits and cable failures.

RMS is advising farmers to have regular electrical inspections, not to overload power supplies and have enough plug sockets to avoid using multi gangs and other adapters.

NFU Mutual’s initial claims figures from January to July 2020 have seen an increase in both incidents and cost, suggesting that 2020 could be heading towards a six-year high. The total cost of £7.6m to the North-Est is a 62 per cent rise from £4.7m in 2018.