Are Your Farm Vehicles Safe?

Keeping your trucks secure from theft

By Emily Croft

Pickup trucks are an indispensable tool on farms across the Prairies. 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, there has been a general decrease in vehicle thefts in the Prairies that may be associated with improved anti-theft technologies present in newer vehicles. The Équité Association, an insurance fraud investigative company based in Toronto, Ont., has shared data with Better Farming which shows a 13 per cent decrease in vehicle thefts in the Prairie provinces between 2016 and 2020.

Despite the general decline in vehicle thefts across Western Canada in recent years, the risk is still present and should be considered by farmers.

“Truck theft from farms is not a new issue. The remoteness and lack of attention to locking trucks and machinery, as well as access to tools and fuel that most farmers have with their pickups, is always an issue,” explains Cor De Wit, the president of the Alberta Provincial Rural Crime Watch Association.

A spokesperson from the Community Safety and Wellbeing Branch with the RCMP in Edmonton notes that 43 per cent of vehicle thefts that occurred from January to August of 2022 in Alberta have been pickup trucks. A reduction in the number of stolen vehicles was observed throughout the pandemic during the past few years, but numbers are now rising again. The Alberta RCMP has seen a 12.5 per cent increase in truck thefts in 2022, compared to the same time period in 2021.

In 2021, pickup trucks assumed 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 trucks from 2019 held the fourth-place position.

What is happening to the stolen pickup trucks in Canada, and what can farmers do to protect their farms from vehicle 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, suggests that vehicles in rural areas are often stolen as a means to get between towns, with the truck 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 most often a crime of opportunity.

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

Farm trucks are often parked by their owners in fields near roads during busy times, such as seeding, 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. This may present itself as the perfect opportunity for a thief 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 the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM), and member of his local Rural Crime Watch group.

Fortunately, many of the farm trucks that are stolen are eventually found, although it may not be in the same condition. The Saskatchewan RCMP shares data stating that 72 per cent of vehicles stolen in 2021 were recovered. As mentioned by Bryan Gast from the Équité Association, older vehicles are less likely to be resold and are more often stolen 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.

“A very high percentage of vehicles will be found, but they are usually just dumped somewhere,” says Sergeant Manaigre.

“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.

person starting truck with screwdriver
    Emily Croft photo

Lee Simanton, a dairy farmer near Red Deer, Alta. had his 2004 Dodge Ram truck and cattle trailer stolen in April 2022 while they were at a shop getting tires fixed. They were found within 24 hours, although the truck was damaged from being hotwired and the trailer was dumped separately.

“Social media is a great way to find things,” shared Simanton, who credited a Facebook post created by his wife for the quick recovery of their truck and trailer.

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 with 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.

The flow of many people through farmyards, including the farmers, farmhands, equipment mechanics, agronomists, and truckers, among others, may make it difficult for producers 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.

“In rural areas, 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 other risks as well.

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

“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 in reducing theft,” explains De Wit.

Many of the precautions that can be taken to reduce theft are fairly simple. The RCMP reminds farmers that removing your keys and locking your vehicle when unattended is extremely important.

truck parked with trailer in plain view
    Emily Croft photo

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 harder for thieves to start a vehicle, often causing them to move along to search for easier targets.

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

Beyond changing the handling of trucks on the farm, securing your farmyard will deter rural crime and 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.

In rural areas of the Prairies, the RCMP has partnered with members of the public to form Rural Crime Watch organizations. The focus of these groups is the prevention of crime through increased awareness, education, and observation for suspicious activity.

SARM’s Orb urges more producers to join their local Rural Crime Watch Association or start one if there is no group already in their area.

“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 their 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 law enforcement.

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

Manaigre also suggests talking to neighbours and using social media to spread the word as fast as possible. More people looking makes it more likely that someone will have information that will assist in 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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