Livestock rustlers could spend up to seven years in prison when new penalties are imposed but a Northland farming official says police need more resources to investigate and take rural crimes more seriously.

The Crimes Amendment Bill, which was passed unanimously by Parliament on Tuesday, makes theft of livestock or any other animal, including beehives and farm dogs, an offence liable for up to seven years in prison.

Also passed was the offence of unlawful entry on agricultural land with the intent to steal livestock or to act unlawfully against specified things such as buildings or machinery on that land — a crime which could see the offender put behind bars for up to a decade.

It makes it the same penalty as for burglary.

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Equipment used in the course of the offending - including vehicles used at the time or later purchased from proceeds - will be subject to forfeiture under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009.

While the new laws might be a deterrent to some the problem in Northland was tracking down the culprits.

Northland Federated Farmers president John Blackwell welcomed the tougher penalties but said the issue in the region was the lack of ability to find the criminals.

"Northland police don't seem to have the time to put into stock theft related activities. Police don't really seem that interested and don't seem to have the resources to chase these cases," Blackwell said.

He said the real test would come when the new laws were applied in the courts.

"If people are brought before the courts and prosecuted and given decent penalties that might be a deterrent."

Blackwell said he had fencing posts stolen over the past six months but had not reported the theft to police.

Northland police Inspector Christopher McLellan, who is the district prevention manager, said police took all crimes, including the theft of livestock and property in rural areas, seriously.

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"We do receive reports from our farming communities of stock theft and the killing of stock, and we view this as an offence and ensure we follow it up accordingly and follow up lines of inquiry."

He said it was essential these crimes were reported in order for police to investigate.

"We have really strong farming communities up here in Northland, and we encourage people to look after themselves and their neighbours and report anything suspicious in their area."

In a Northland incident in January three breeding cows and a calf were shot dead, with one butchered and meat taken, while another two were left suffering bullet wounds.

The stock belonged to Poutu Peninsular farmer Ian Russell.

He described it as a "cowardly attack" and said the Angus cows and calf were in a mob of about 60 when they were shot.

Police had taken away a silencer and bullet cases but Russell had not heard anything more from officers who attended the incident

Russell said he had lost more than 800 cattle and 2700 sheep to stock thieves off his various farms over 30 years.

While the tougher laws were a start he said the real issue was getting the thieves before the courts.

"It's pretty serious when you have firearms involved and someone spraying bullets around at stock. But unless these people are caught by police the new laws won't make much difference."

Andrew Pallesen, of Apiculture NZ, said beehive thefts had ncrewsed over the last few years and the assaociation supported any tougher plenalties.

He said the association had worked with police across New Zealand and last year developed a contact list for police in each region.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said the theft of livestock was becoming more prevalent with Federated Farmers estimating the cost of this criminal activity to be in the order of $120 million a year.

"A Federated Farmers survey revealed that approximately one in four of their members have suffered stock theft in the past five years. This is clearly a serious incidence of crime, which takes a toll on the livelihood and the quality of life of the farming community," Little said.

"I think it will give the police many more tools in their pursuit of these people, but it also gives our communities more protection in the instance of livestock rustling or theft of livestock or even illegal activities on agricultural land with respect to the Biosecurity Act."

"That's hugely important for New Zealand and became much more pronounced with the outbreak of M. bovis."

He said taking infected livestock down the road and onto someone else's land, untracked, was a big risk to New Zealand's biosecurity system.

"It's quite an exciting opportunity for rural New Zealand, or provincial New Zealand and for our farmers of New Zealand whether they farm bees, trees, or whatever."