Farm groups react to impending mandatory vaccine mandates for truck drivers

With the Government of Canada planning to implement its vaccine mandate for cross-border truck drivers on Saturday, January 15, and a looming domestic mandate still at play, the agricultural industry is trying to adjust and cope with the impact.

Under the more pressing mandate of January 15, unvaccinated Canadian drivers will be allowed back to Canada, but there will be a required PCR test within 72 hours and a 14-day quarantine upon re-entry in to Canada.

Farm groups have been relatively quiet on the issue, as groups attempt to determine the potential consequences. As agriculture is a very export-oriented industry for Canada, any deterrents on the trucking industry is coming at a very inconvenient time.

According to the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), 70 per cent of the trade between Canada and the U.S. occurs via land crossings. If the government follows through with the intention to make vaccines mandatory for federally regulated industries, interprovincial truck driving would also be impacted, even if the route stayed with the borders of Canada.

“With a large cross-border trade of incoming feeder cattle, and export of fed cattle, this will have an significant impact on our industry as a large number of drivers have not been vaccinated,” says Janice Tranberg, executive director of the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association.

The cattle industry is not the only sector that is concerned.

Brendan Byrne, chairperson of the Grain Farmers of Ontario, stated to RealAgriculture, “the scarcity of truck drivers is a major concern for Ontario grain farmers who face challenges when it comes to the transportation of essential inputs for planting and getting their crops to market.  The unpredictability and additional challenges facing trucking that has been created since the pandemic puts additional pressure on an already stressed system.”

Related: Agriculture and rural areas could be hardest hit by vaccine mandate fallout

One of the major realities for the sector is the current shortage of truck drivers. According to Shannon Sereda, senior manager of government relations and policy at the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions, “[the vaccine mandate] will contribute to a persisting shortage of Class 1 drivers in Alberta which has impacted availability for the crop/ag sector. Ag producers in Alberta (and more broadly) are already experiencing driver shortages which has been compounded by the introduction of the Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT)  for Class 1 which has increased the costs associated with licensing new drivers.”

Byrne sees the same shortage in Ontario. “The lack of truckers is further exacerbated by the increase in supply chain challenges created by the pandemic and crossing the border.”

One potential positive mentioned by Tranberg, which was shared by the CTA as well, is that “drivers not able to drive across borders or provinces may increase the number of local drivers available which could be a positive locally – this remains to be seen.”

Although a push back of the January 15 deadline would give companies the ability to work towards higher vaccination rates within the driver population, how much higher is in question at this point. Plus, the U.S. requirement for vaccination goes in to effect January 22, 2022, regardless of what Canada decides for cross-border truckers.

For Byrne, agriculture is an essential industry and therefore, “Farmers need to get their crops to market and we urge the federal government and the province of Ontario to recognize these challenges on truck transportation and put in place immediate an plan that ensure that the agriculture supply chain is not disrupted.”

Other groups in the vegetable, pork, grain, and oilseed sectors were contacted, but declined to comment at this time.

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