Federal Government Trying To Decide What’s Safe For Farm Kids

I must say I was taught the value of work, and becoming a contributing member of the family at a very early age, due to the fact that I had my upbringing on a farm in Tennessee. A child growing up on a farm soon learns that there is work to be done most all the time and everyone who puts their feet under the kitchen table is usually required to help out in some way. It may involve only turning the water on for the cows to drink or seeing that the feed buckets are filled at the end of the day, but even the smallest members of farm families soon are taught responsibility and how to work. At least that is the way it used to be. But, if our federal Department of Labor enforces some newly proposed restrictions, big government may be telling farm families how they can raise their families and when children are ready to learn how to work.
The proposed restrictions and regulations could have a major impact on youth under the age of 16 who can perform work in agriculture. They could prohibit or seriously limit 4-H and FFA members from working on farms and doing many of the jobs that they do everyday that we all take for granted. It has even been noted that other non-farm kids, such as neighbors, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, also wouldn’t be allowed to help out with many of the typical farm tasks that they do when they come to visit or just to help out on the farm. Big government, by using restrictions and regulations for safety’s sake, are finally attempting to become a part of parental judgement down on the farm, and I think they are going too far.
Those of us on the farm are concerned with assuring safety and when it comes to our youth, there is no desire to place them in a position of danger or risk. However, the new regulations do go beyond that point and infringe upon the rights of farm families to operate their farms with family members. The American Farm Bureau along with 70 other agricultural organizations filed comments that urged the department “to maintain the integrity of the family farm exemption approved by Congress.” The comment period on the proposal has closed and it is now up to the government to have the final say on the rule making process.
A major concern is the potential prohibition on youth harvesting fruits and vegetables. The proposed regulations could create an even tighter supply of agriculture labor at a time when it is tight enough. Finding farm labor for harvesting is becoming even more difficult and with a possible removal of youth from the job market, this could cause major challenges.
Some of the proposed changes listed in an article from Southern Farmer December 8 include:
  • Strengthen current child labor prohibitions regarding work with animals in timber operations, manure pits, storage bins and pesticide handling.
  • Prohibit hired farm workers under age 16 from employment in the cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco.
  • Prohibit youth in both agricultural and nonagricultural employment from using electronic devices, including communication devices, while operating power-driven equipment.
  • Prohibit hired farm workers under age 16 from operating almost all power-driven equipment. A limited exemption would permit some student-learners to operate certain farm implements and tractors (equipped with rollover protection structures and seat belts) under specified conditions.
  • Prevent children under 18 from being employed in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm-product raw materials. Prohibited places of employment would include grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.
I’m just glad the Department of Labor wasn’t around our place when I was growing up. Of course, there wasn’t that much power-driven equipment, but a horse sure could kick at times. And harvesting the down-rows of corn was pretty hard on the back, but being the youngest (a whole lot younger than 16) I usually got the job breaking off the ears of corn and throwing them in the wagon as it moved. The good part about that job was you slept really well at night.
Most of us would feel better if the regulations being proposed would be withdrawn and the Department of Labor would just follow the intent of Congress in only addressing occupations that are particularly hazardous. Instead, it may mean that farm youth can only go visit the barn, but not do many chores there if the letter of the law is followed.  

– Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News and Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at pread@tfbf.com