Are Your Farm Vehicles Safe?

Keeping your trucks secure from theft

By Emily Croft

Pickup trucks are an indispensable tool on farms across Ontario. Transportation between fields, hauling cattle, and running parts are just a handful of the tasks that a pickup truck might be used for on any given day. The necessity of the farm truck makes the concept of vehicle theft all the more concerning.

Over recent years, the theft of newer vehicles has become more difficult due to improvements to anti-theft technologies.

The Équité Association, an insurance fraud investigative company based in Toronto, shared data demonstrating a 40 per cent increase in vehicle thefts in Ontario between 2016 and 2020. This emphasizes that the risk of pickup theft is still present and should be considered by farmers.

In 2021, pickup trucks held three positions on the Équité Association’s list of Canada’s most stolen vehicles. Ford pickups from 2018 held the first spot, while Chevrolet and GMC trucks from 2005 held third place, and Dodge truck from 2019 held the fourth-place position.

close up of someone using scredriver to start a truck
    Emily Croft photo

While SUVs are the most common target for auto-theft in Ontario, in 2021 the Équité Association reported 2017 Chevrolet and GMC trucks, 2017 Ford trucks, and 2019 Dodge trucks as the fourth, fifth, and sixth most stolen vehicles in the province, respectively.

“I’ve been seeing more farmers posting on social media about their own vehicles being stolen or observing suspicious activity around farm-yards recently,” shared Paul Nairn, OFA’s Western Region Manager of Member Services.

What is happening to all the stolen pickup trucks, and what can farmers do to protect their farms from theft?

Where do stolen vehicles go?

There are a variety of motivations for the theft of pickup trucks. The Insurance Bureau of Canada suggests that vehicles may be sold overseas or for parts, be used to commit other crimes, or driven to get between locations.

“Newer vehicles will often be stolen for the purpose of export, while older ones might be used for parts,” suggests Bryan Gast of the Équité Association, who cites supply chain issues and vehicle shortages as a potential explanation for the increased demand in stolen vehicles.

Rural areas may present transportation issues for some individuals. Pickup trucks parked on farms, often with the keys nearby or in the ignition, would present a tempting opportunity for someone looking for a quick way to get out of town. Sergeant Paul Manaigre, a media relations officer with the Manitoba RCMP, suggested that vehicles in rural areas are often stolen as a means to get between towns, with the vehicle often being dumped at the end of the trip.

“It’s a mode of transportation that they don’t have, so they are just trying to find the easiest place to get it,” states Manaigre, identifying that the theft of farm vehicles is often a crime of opportunity.

“In rural settings it is very easy to get these vehicles without being seen. There are less neighbours who might see, so in the country it’s a lot easier to get away with it.”

Farm trucks are often left in fields near roads during busy times, such as planting, haying, and harvest. These vehicles may not always be in sight of the farmer while they work, or may be left in the field entirely unattended at times. This may present itself as the perfect opportunity for someone who knows what they are looking for.

“During harvest sometimes the trucks might be left at the end of the field, but there are criminals out there looking,” shares Ray Orb, President of Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, and member of his local Rural Crime Watch group.

Fortunately, many of the farm trucks that are stolen are found, although it may not be in the same condition. As mentioned by Bryan Gast from the Équité Association, older vehicles are less likely to be resold and are more often stolen to sell as parts, to commit other crimes, or as a mode of transportation. This results in vehicles often being discovered dumped or damaged, as an attempt to minimize evidence.

truck stripped of parts
    Kyle Rutherford photo

Kyle Rutherford, a cash-crop farmer from Woodstock had his 2004 GMC Sierra stolen in 2016. The farmer shared that he knew other people that had their vehicles stolen around the same time. The truck was recovered the following year, along with nearly 80 other stolen vehicles.

“It was just the bare bones left over,” said Rutherford.

“The shell of the cab was all that was left. They used the VIN tag by the windshield to identify it.”

“We often see quite a few burnt or destroyed vehicles. Some are recovered when they have been renumbered or cloned for resale, and they are often in better shape but are harder to detect than other stolen vehicles,” shares Ken Horwood, a constable with the RCMP Auto-Theft Division in Edmonton.

What makes a farm a target?

The remote nature of rural communities makes farms an ideal target for criminals. Long work hours, high-traffic home yards, and distant neighbours all contribute to the ease in which a farm truck might be stolen.

Fuel, vehicle parts, and tools hold value and are commonly found on pickup trucks used on the farm, and with recent supply chain shortages these items are in increasing demand. This may be an opportunity that thieves know to look for.

“The remoteness and lack of attention to locking the truck and other machinery, as well as access to tools and fuel that most farmers have with their pickups, is always an issue,” explains Cor De Wit, president of Alberta Provincial Rural Crime Watch Association.

The frequent flow of many people through farmyards, including the farmers, farmhands, equipment mechanics, agronomists, and truckers, among others, may make it difficult for farmers to keep track of who is supposed to be in their yard and who isn’t. The busyness of the farmyard can make it easy for a theft to go unnoticed as it happens.

“In a rural area, including farmyards, the isolation element makes it much more attractive,” explains Brenna Mahoney, general manager of Keystone Agricultural Producers in Manitoba.

“A farmyard is a busy place with people coming and going, and the expensive vehicles around yards make these locations attractive.”

Trespassing that often occurs in association with truck thefts presents risks beyond loss of property. Producers are left feeling insecure on their own property and violation of bio-secure areas on farms may put crops and livestock at risk.

“This is also a biosecurity concern and trespassing places their farm at risk. You could bring a pest on farm by even coming across another field. From a livestock perspective, pathogens can be brought in on your shoes between farms,” says Mahoney.

Farms present abundant opportunity for theft, and with that comes additional risks to farm safety. The best method to reduce farm truck theft and rural crime is prevention.

What can producers do to secure their farms and keep their vehicles safe?

How can theft be prevented?

Any steps that can be taken to secure farmyards and vehicles, while improving surveillance in rural areas, can reduce the opportunities for rural crime and farm truck theft.

“We encourage people to lock their vehicles even in their farmyards,” said OFA’s Nairn.

“Thieves are opportunists and will take advantage of any opportunity to profit from a mistake. No method is 100 per cent theft-proof but taking those small steps to secure your vehicle and the contents within it will go a long way towards reducing theft,” explains De Wit.

Many of the precautions that can be taken to reduce theft are fairly simple. The Équité Association reminds farmers that removing your keys and locking your vehicle when unattended, and never leaving a running vehicle unsupervised are extremely important steps to preventing theft.

Farmers should park their vehicles in a location visible from their equipment when working in the field, away from busy roadways.

If more extreme steps are required, particularly in older vehicles without built in anti-theft features, immobilizing devices can also be installed. These will deter thieves and ensure that the vehicle remains where the owner has parked it.

Constable Horwood has observed an increased use of immobilizing devices including steering wheel locks, hidden ignitions, and kill switches. These measures make it a larger task for thieves to start a vehicle, often resulting in them moving along to search for easier targets.

“If it won’t start, it won’t leave,” states Horwood.

Beyond changing practices to the handling of trucks on the farm, securing your farmyard will deter rural crime and will increase the chances that any suspicious activity is noticed. The easiest methods to secure a farmyard are to install yard lights, ensure that fences and gates are functional, and install security systems.

Orb urges farmers to collaborate with their neighbours to be on the lookout for suspicious behaviour.

“The more people out there watching, the better surveillance we are going to have,” Ray says.

What can be done?

The first action by the farmer when a truck is stolen should always be contacting the police as soon as possible.

Information about the vehicle or any observations about the crime should be recorded and shared with the police.

“If you wait, it just makes it that much tougher to do our job,” Sergeant Manaigre warns.

Sergeant Manaigre also suggests talking to neighbours and using social media to share information to spread the word as fast as possible. This will increase the chances of receiving information that will impact the recovery of the vehicle.

“Your life is worth more than the property, do everything you can to protect yourself, and call the police,” states Mahoney. BF

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