By Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Published Nov 05, 2021

Reports of trespassers posing as Manitoba Hydro employees have Manitoba pork and chicken producers sounding the alarm.

Reports of trespassing are concerning for producers, especially as cases have  recently been on the rise, said Manitoba Chicken Producers executive  director Wayne Hiltz.

“Our farms are family farms, so we have  families, kids, grandparents and babies. That’s their place of  residence. Obviously, the safety of farmers is first and foremost. But  also the safety of their livelihood,” Hiltz said.

Manitoba Chicken  Producers is aware of four separate trespassing incidents in the last  few months. In three of these incidents, trespassers indicated they were  an employee of Manitoba Hydro. In two of those instances, the farmers  contacted Hydro and received confirmation that the person was not an  employee nor on the farm for Hydro business.

Farmers have diligent  food safety protocols in place to ensure they are providing safe food  to consumers, Hiltz said, and trespassing can compromise these efforts  by posing a biosecurity risk.

Biosecurity is essential for the  livelihood of farmers, he said. Hiltz cited avian influenza as an  example. The disease has hit various places in North America over the  last decade. Millions upon millions of chickens were killed due to the  disease.

Minnesota was one of the states hit hardest by avian influenza. Counties bordering southeastern Manitoba were also affected.

Biosecurity is what prevented it from spreading to Manitoba barns.

“Due  to the great work of our farmers and their adherence to biosecurity  there was not one avian influenza [outbreak] in Manitoba, despite the  fact it was relatively a few miles away,” Hiltz said.

“That’s a testament to how good our farmers adhere to biosecurity and food safety programs.”

If  biosecurity had been compromised, the disease spreading through a  chicken population would have massive implications. Trade barriers could  be established around the province or a designated area preventing  farmers from moving poultry outside that area, leading to a shortage of  poultry products. The shortage would result in increased prices for  consumers and devastation to what are largely family-run farms.

“That  could affect not just the farm where there’s a biosecurity breach, but  also other farms in the area would have difficulty getting their product  to market,” Hiltz said. “It could be a whole segment of the industry  where those birds need to be destroyed.”

There is a wide range of  options farmers face when confronted with trespassers, Hiltz said. At  times it can be a lost tourist, but more and more they are witnessing  activists committing break-and-enters.

“A few years ago we had  trespassers on a farm and the farmer confronted them. He didn’t even  have his cellphone on him … He got up to the trespassers and these guys  were armed with machetes,” Hiltz said. “Obviously, he was quite scared  at that point — what do you do?”

Manitoba Chicken Producers is  encouraging anyone who experiences suspicious trespassers to report the  incident. When these reports are received the organization lets all  farmers know there is a potential issue so they can keep an eye out.

“Our  producers are diligent. We’ve got licence plates. We’ve got vehicle  descriptions. That certainly helps the rest of the producers be on the  lookout and be aware,” Hiltz said.

He added Manitoba Chicken Producers are thankful to Minister of Economic Development and Training  Ralph Eichler and Minister of Justice Cameron Friesen for their work in  addressing producers’ rising concerns regarding trespassing through the  Occupiers Liability Act and Animal Diseases Act.

The ministers  were attentive when concerns were brought forward, Hiltz said, and made  consultations that took place before amending the legislation. He  appreciates that they valued the input and safety of farmers and their  livelihood.

Manitoba Pork Producers has had reports of similar trespassing issues, said general manager Cam Dahl.

FILE Reports of trespassers have Manitoba pork, beef and chicken producers sounding the alarm.

“We  are hearing reports of individuals trying to gain access to properties,  through, for example, misrepresentation of utility employees,” Dahl  said. “The reports … are very concerning.”

He added 2021 marks  the first year he can recall incidents of trespassers posing as  government employees to gain access to a farm. The motivation for these  incidents is unclear.

When incidents of this nature occur, Dahl  said, the first step is confirming a worker is who they say they are.  Farmers can request identification and phone numbers are available to  confirm a person is supposed to be on a farm.

If the person is persistent, the incident can be reported to the RCMP. 

“Just  like all of our homes, we don’t want to come home in the evening and  see some stranger sitting at our kitchen table,” Dahl said. “It’s the  same for farmers.”

The pork industry — a $2-million sector in  Manitoba — also faces biosecurity risks. The threat of foreign animal  diseases like African swine fever could devastate the industry across  the country.

Manitoba Beef Producers general manager Carson Callum  said the organization is aware of some of the trespassing challenges  animal industries in the province are facing.

“Biosecurity is  really important for the health of the [animals]. You can see how  quickly the disease can spread and if you don’t have some restrictions  in place to curb the spread of these harmful diseases it can be  detrimental to the various livestock herds that the disease impacts,”  Callum said.

Anecdotally he has heard stories associated with  trespassing and rural crime, Callum said, but the beef sector is unique  because herds are managed and maintained on large tracks of land.

“It’s difficult to know how many people are coming on to that land at a given time,” Callum said.

He encouraged people to call the authorities when there is a potential trespassing incident.

“It’s always concerning and abnormal when folks come on the land when they’re not supposed to,” Callum said.

This item is reprinted with permission from Brandon Sun. See article HERE.

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