OFA: Trucking, transportation vital to food chain during pandemic

By Mark Reusser, Vice President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

OPINION – Our distribution network is one of the keys to keeping our agri-food system functioning in normal and extraordinary times and we rely heavily on the trucking and transportation industry to make that happen. The trucking and transportation system is entrenched in the strength, safety and viability of our entire food value chain.

OFA vice president Mark Reusser
OFA vice president Mark Reusser

The federal government has acknowledged the important role trucking and transportation plays in maintaining our food system by deeming commercial truck drivers as essential workers through the COVID-19 pandemic. As farmers, and the foundation of our farm-to-fork value chain, we rely on truck drivers for a wide range of goods and services, from farm inputs, equipment and commodities vital to crop production through to the delivery of livestock and poultry and ultimately the distribution of essential food products.

The trucking industry plays an integral role in our entire food supply chain and we need to keep the food production system operating during this pandemic. It is estimated that more than 90% of all consumer products and foodstuffs are shipped by truck and there are approximately 200,000 trucks travelling Ontario roadways on any given day. That’s why the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) has been advocating with the federal government to keep our trucking and transportation employees safe and healthy, and the system moving to ensure Canadians have continued access to fresh, healthy and safe food products during these difficult times. We’ve also been sharing that message with our counterparts at the provincial level.

OFA has been engaged in conversations at the federal and provincial levels of government on several issues that have been identified within the trucking industry, including lack of rest areas, bathroom facilities, food services and insurance coverage related to travel in the U.S. OFA has received confirmation that OHIP and insurance will continue to cover travel in the U.S. for the transportation sector – a critical member of our supply chain. Premier Doug Ford and the Ontario government has already committed to keeping the province’s ONroute Service Centres open to offer truck drivers access to necessary facilities, rest stops, food and fuel.

Together, OFA, Food and Beverage Ontario and the Ontario Agri-Business Association recently sent a letter to Minister Hardeman requesting an exemption from Ontario’s reduced load period weight restrictions on all Ontario highways and roads in response to COVID-19. We’re asking for this temporary exemption to streamline the movement of the agri-food value chain, including food products, critical farm inputs and essential goods necessary for processing and producing food. Quebec has already implemented a similar temporary exemption.

Not only do Ontarians rely on keeping our trucks on the road, but farmers and businesses too. Approximately two-thirds of Canada-U.S. trade by value is transported by trucks, including three-quarters of Ontario’s export trade to the U.S.

Thank you to everyone working long hours to maintain all of our businesses along the food value chain, and ensuring all Ontarians have access to safe and reliable food through these times of unprecedented demand and uncertainty. And remember – if you got it, a truck brought it.