This week’s Guest Commentary comes from Mark Kunkel, Board Member, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Chances are, if you live and work in rural Ontario, you love the location. Wide open spaces, sprawling fields and no neighbours within reach are some of the best parts of living in the country. Unfortunately, there can be a downside to this rural living. Unwanted trespassers.
Fields and farming buildings can be tough to keep a close eye on, and that opens the door to break-ins, unwanted visitors and vandalism. Every year farmers and rural landowners in Ontario come face to face with unwelcome traffic – individuals who take advantage of open, sometimes secluded spaces that make up our rural countryside. If you just look at the statistics, rural property crime rates are lower than in urban areas. But the implications of trespassing, vandalism, garbage dumping, animal activism and crop damage can be much more than just a nuisance. Rural crime can have a bigger ripple effect when you consider the impact on issues like biosecurity.
It can be hard to know where to begin to think about protecting your property. Now there is a new online resource to guide Ontario farmers and rural landowners through some simple steps for stronger on-farm security. A practical guide to on-farm security was developed in partnership with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and Farm & Food Care Ontario. This project was funded in part through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of Growing Forward 2 in Ontario. The new guide to on-farm security is now available on the issues section of OFA’s website at www.ofa.on.ca.
There are three main parts to the guide – securing your assets, visitors on the farm and when to call police. There are lots of simple tips like posting No Trespassing signs on every entrance to your farm, keeping a visitor’s log of anyone who visits your farm property, developing a rapport with local law enforcement and keeping buildings, vehicles and other facilities locked. The OFA is encouraging all members to access the tips in this new resource to strengthen their on-farm security.
To deter unwanted visitors even more, the OFA has been advocating on behalf of farmers and rural landowners to update the Trespass to Property Act. The OFA is asking the government to impose a minimum $500 fine for trespassing and broader police enforcement of trespassing to address farm safety and biosecurity concerns. The current act has damage awards, or compensation for vandalism and property damage, set at only $1,000, far too low for the types of damage farmers and rural landowners are already dealing with. The OFA would like to increase the ceiling on damage awards to $25,000 to match the ceiling for small claims court, $25,000.
The bottom line is to always be alert and aware of what is happening around your farm. Take a read through the new on-farm security resource for practical tips to put in place that will protect your farm assets and your family.