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Leaving the land for the road

REGINA, Sask. - Read the newspapers, listen to the radio or watch television and the news about agriculture is generally the same - bad and getting worse. Each year, hundreds of farmers walk away from...


NEW DIRECTION: Farmers make great prospective truckers because many have experience driving heavy equipment.
NEW DIRECTION: Farmers make great prospective truckers because many have experience driving heavy equipment.

REGINA, Sask. – Read the newspapers, listen to the radio or watch television and the news about agriculture is generally the same – bad and getting worse. Each year, hundreds of farmers walk away from their livelihoods, courtesy of creditors or a desire to make more money.

But one industry’s downturn may be another’s good fortune. Many farmers who leave the land to look for work elsewhere are already familiar with operating large equipment and semi-trailer units.

Truck driving is a viable option.

“There are some skills that are transferable,” says Jim Friesen, general manager of the Saskatchewan Trucking Association. “The Saskatchewan farmer is very savvy. He knows hard work, is used to longer hours, and is often very good at driving trucks.”

Friesen says farmers are likely driving candidates considering that some are probably looking for seasonal or full-time work, depending upon the severity of their situation.

Take the case of Jim Flynn, who farms about 3,000 acres with his son near Beechy, Sask. He, his son and his brother all recently received their 1A licences and Flynn knows at least another dozen farmers in his area that are also pursuing their licences.

“Some of the young guys and maybe my son will use their licences for off-farm work or hauling grain for others, or driving other grain trucks,” says Flynn. “There is also work in the oil fields. Pretty much if you get two years experience, there are always jobs in the papers for drivers.”

There are other factors that are driving farmers into the transportation industry. For Flynn, a trip to the nearest grain elevator is now more than 100 km. Not only does he have to spend his time in long line-ups at the elevator, but the cost of trucking is rapidly increasing.

With the inconvenience of contacting a trucking company to transport his grain, hauling it at their schedule, and being around for the loading, Flynn decided to purchase his own truck and trailer. He was also concerned about rumors that due to line-ups at elevators, trucking companies would start transferring the costs of waiting (perhaps over 15 minutes) back to the farmer.

“Although we don’t put many miles on it (our truck) – just to the elevator and back – it has definitely paid its way, if you don’t count the labor,” explains Flynn. “I calculate that it is about half the cost of hiring someone else.”

Flynn believes that the trend towards farmers becoming drivers and purchasing their own trucks will likely continue. He already knows three or four farmers in their 40s who are looking at hauling grain.

Earl Driedger, owner of Maximum Training, a Saskatoon-based company which trains drivers, says about 35 per cent of his students have been from farms or have a farm background.

“It is easier for them because of their background and experience in driving trucks,” he says. “The down side is that they don’t have city driving experience.”

Driedger says there are numerous reasons why farmers are becoming drivers. Training is now much more affordable and the course is shorter. In fact, the provincial government has grants available to farmers who meet certain criteria, such as an income of less than $30,000, and want to take new training.

He’s noticed that more farmers are seeking training because they want jobs during the winter months to supplement their farm income. Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) eased its restrictions on driving farm vehicles, which has also made it more attractive.

As well, older training programs were too long and costly, and were mainly geared for those who were looking for full-time employment with existing transportation companies. “Farmers didn’t want to pay for that. They just wanted to have a license so they could haul their grain and in the winter pick-up jobs driving trucks,” explains Driedger.

Often trucking companies will contact Driedger and specifically ask him for young farm people because the perception is that they have a hard work ethic coupled with experience driving grain trucks so they are more desirable candidates.

Although it appears that the number of farmers who are becoming truck drivers is on the increase, the STA’s Jim Friesen emphasizes that driver shortages remain a concern.

“It has been and continues to be a serious problem, not only in Saskatchewan, but nationally as well,” he says. “We’ve been working very hard to recruit drivers through job fairs, seminars, and approaching high schools. We are also constructing classrooms for First Nations people from cities and rural areas. I think we are having success.”


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