By Connor Lynch
BROOKE-ALVINSTON — Finding licensed truckers for the ag industry is always an exercise in frustration, said one Western Ontario hog farmer. And he has some ideas on how to fix it.
Lambton County hog and cash crop farmer Scott Leystra, who farms at Brooke-Alvinston, about an hour’s drive west of London, said Ontario suffers from a chronic shortage of AZ licensed drivers. The AZ licence allows driving a truck equipped with air brakes, a necessity when hauling heavy farm loads.
Because the work is usually either part-time or seasonal in the ag industry, the barriers to entry are just too high, said Leystra, who has an AZ licence and has a part-time trucker who would like to be AZ licensed but he can’t fit it in between part-time trucking and full-time work elsewhere.
The other obstacle is the price of training. Back in 2017, Ontario changed the rules for getting an AZ licence and announced training by an accredited college would be mandatory to getting a licence. Previously, drivers had to pass a written and road test. But a Toronto Star investigation found dozens of “degree mills,” which kept their course costs under $1,000 but instruction was minimal.
The Ontario Trucking Association supported the move, saying that the old system allowed for an “underbelly of drivers without the training.”
The catch, said Leystra, is that doing a course with an accredited college can cost as much as $10,000 and requires a minimum 103.5 hours instruction. At Ontario Truck Driving School in Brantford it’s an eight-week, 200-hour course that costs about $9,000.
But ag trucking is usually short-range, and a truck exclusively hauling for the ag sector might not break 5,000 km a year, said Leystra. That’s a cost that’s hard to pencil out for part-time work.
He’d like to see a system where a trucker could be licensed for ag work only, with licensing only taking a written and road test. “We’re not hauling across the country. You’re avoiding towns at all costs anyway. You’re literally taking backroads,” Leystra said.
The farm sector might be having a rough time poaching drivers, but the number of AZ-licensed truckers has been creeping up. From 2012 to 2017, the number of AZ-licensed truckers in Ontario went from 189,579 to 209,466. That’s an average increase of around 4,000 per year.