Here’s a remarkable story. If you buy greenhouse-grown produce in North America, almost every vegetable on the shelve was probably one day in a Jacobs Transportation truck. Maybe not in its current shape, but earlier in the fresh produce chain: the company transports vegetable seedlings to growers all over North America and Canada.
The old story goes that all roads lead to Rome. Nowadays, it seems as if all horticulture roads depart from the Netherlands – or close to that, at least. Theo Jacobs was a Belgian man who landed in Canada in search of opportunities. He and his family established a farm in the small town of Vittoria, Ontario, where they grew many cash crops, including corn, tobacco, strawberries, and apples they used to press into juice. Theo and his Dutch wife Jackie had five children together, the youngest being Michael. Jacobs farms is where Michael initially learned about the importance of a strong work ethic and the foundation of agricultural farming practices. Michael would work out on the farm and transport the finished products to market. After years on the farm, Michael bought his own truck and ventured out away from farming to gain experience hauling other commoditized freight such as gasoline, flatbed, and grain. After years and many hours on the road, Michael was ready to start his own logistics company with his wife, Barbara. Thus, in 1999, Jacobs Transportation was founded.
Small to mega complexes
“The first load we did as a company was with ProPlant Propagation Service,” Barbara Jacobs explains. “It was a small industry back then. We used to deliver for small farms, but now we deliver to these mega complexes. If you come to Leamington, you basically see a city under glass.” What started out as one propagation customer quickly turned into two, and we now service both Proplant Propagation as well as Ontario Plants Propagation.
The industry has changed a lot since Jacobs Transportation started, with growers becoming increasingly concerned about plant pests and pathogens. “We grew along with the industry,” says Tyler Jacobs from Jacobs Transportation. “There are many challenges, and it seems the industry is harder to service now than back when we started. There are diseases that growers are aware of and that they want to keep out of their cultivation. As of now, everyone is very concerned about the tomato virus, for instance.”
Biosecurity has increased exponentially in the horticulture industry, but as Tyler points out, biosecurity practices absolutely don’t stop in the cultivation only. “All the carts and trailers get disinfected before and after they are loaded,” he continues. “Usually, there is no-touch freight, and the greenhouses keep the same in-house workers to load the carts on and off the truck to reduce any plant health hazards.” Once they unload the young plants to a greenhouse, Jacobs Transportation takes back the old carts to the propagator that will disinfect the cart again.
A pivotal industry
It truly goes without saying how Jacobs Transportation, and all the logistics companies, are pivotal for the horticulture industry to function smoothly. “Now, with protected cropping, growers do cycles year-round, so we are constantly busy,” Tyler says. “Back in the day, we used to have hectic periods depending on the season, and to a certain extent, we still do. Yet, next to our usual pepper and tomato rush, cucumbers are now grown year-round, and in-between these, there are products like strawberries that fill those months that were historically slower.”
As the amount of work for Jacobs Transportation has increased over time, the same thing can be said about their challenges. While the global pandemic made them even busier, the truck drivers' protests in Canada and the difficulty in finding labor keep throwing wrenches at the logistics sector, not to mention the fuel cost increase. “Fortunately, we were at a point In the season where we did little across the border with the US, while protests occurred,” Tyler observes. “That didn’t mean that we didn’t have any challenge, quite the opposite. Protesters blocked bridges and roads, and they changed quite often. So, it was difficult to assess whether our driver would have to make a detour. There was some struggle about that, but we could push through it.”
The new struggle is represented by the increase in fuel cost, which companies pass down to the consumers, who see price increases for their food. “Unfortunately, a lot of people think that trucking companies do this on purpose, but we must pay for the fuel in order to fulfill our services. This is for the sake of not only the farmers but also consumers. On top of that, inflation is going up, making everything more expensive, like wages, equipment, fleet maintenance, along with the technology required in today’s age.”
To better understand that, Tyler explains that the cost of purchasing equipment has risen substantially. “But now, if you can even get to order one, you are looking at a 38% increase for one truck. This also goes into a company’s costs, and expenses need to be amortized.”
On top of all of that, trucking companies now have a hard time finding labor. “It’s not something that people want to go for as a career,” Tyler says. “A lot of drivers are also getting to retirement age, so there’s a dire need for a big new influx of drivers. Truck drivers had pride in their job and got respected for what they did. Now, it seems as if finding products on a store’s shelf is taken for granted, not to mention the way truck drivers are treated on the road and sometimes at loading and receiving facilities.
"Drivers give up family life in order to perform these services. Life on the road isn’t always easy, but showing respect to the drivers on and off-road makes their job a little easier, and they can feel pride in what they do. We do our best to make the drivers work as fluent and least frustrating as possible. It's all a balance of keeping the customer happy but not forgetting about the driver who is doing a substantial job keeping everything on track from point A to point B”.