Thefts of farm produce and marine products reported by farmers and fishermen across the nation from January to August shot up 48.1 percent over the previous year, according to a National Police Agency report released Thursday.

The amount of damage totaled 55.9 million yen, an increase of 81.8 percent.

Police managed to break only 13 out of the 480 reported theft cases, the NPA said.

Thefts of farm produce included rice, fruit and vegetables, while abalone was the most coveted marine product.

Farmers believe rice became an attractive target for thieves this year because the harvest was poor and freshly harvested rice fetches a premium. There were 50 reported rice thefts in the January-August period.

Farm ministry sources said Japan is facing its worst rice harvest since 1993 due to this year’s cool summer and comparative lack of sunlight.

The sources said that data to be released Friday by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry show that as of Sept. 15, the rice harvest in the Hokkaido and Tohoku regions was “extremely poor.” The harvest index is 81 for Hokkaido and 86 for the Tohoku region, against a base of 100 for an average year, the sources said.

The nationwide harvest index meanwhile stood at 92.

NPA officials say they have no idea why there was a big surge in the theft of fruit and vegetables. There were 202 vegetable thefts, or 42.1 percent of the total, and 111 fruit thefts.

The top six fruit and vegetable products stolen this year were watermelons, strawberries, melons, grapes, cherries and peaches.

With this year’s harvesting season around the corner, police say they are stepping up vigilance against farm theft.

In Akita and Yamagata prefectures, police have launched joint patrols of farmlands and orchards with farmers and volunteers.

In Yamanashi and Ehime, police are working with local governments and farmers, and have launched a public education campaign to deter farm thefts.

By region, 220 out of the 480 farm and marine product thefts reported this year occurred in Kyushu, which accounted for 45.8 percent of the thefts reported nationwide. Next was the Kanto region, with 95 thefts, followed by Chubu with 71.

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