Commentary: Changes in child labor laws affect farm kids

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If you are a farm kid, raise your hand.  Now, everyone else look at those whose hands are raised because they will soon be as scarce as a World War II veteran.  Yes, thanks to the omniscient folks at the U.S. Department of Labor, youngsters who have the advantage of growing up and working on a farm might as well move in with their city cousins. 

The newly proposed regulations from the Department of Labor will delay the education of a farm kid well past the point he or she may ever want to return to the farm.  Ag restrictions are being placed on what can be done at certain ages.

Sorry, can’t go out to the machine shed, you’ll be hurt.  Sorry, can’t go to the barn, you’ll be hurt.  Sorry, can’t mow the lawn, you’ll be hurt.  Sorry, can’t touch the family GPS unit, you’ll be hurt.  Oh, and don’t even think about going near the county fair livestock show ring, Dad or Mom will be showing your 4-H and FFA projects because you’ll be hurt, if you try that.

It is not a thrill to read the 50 pages in the Federal Register where such new regulations are proposed, but it was published September 2, beginning on page 54836.  On the Internet, it is here.

The Department of Labor is proposing new rules for the Child Labor Act.  Not many farm kids would consider themselves slaves, because they would rather be with Mom and Dad learning what happens on the farm, with hands-on, on the job training. 

However the restrictions being proposed will severely reduce those opportunities, and in some cases eliminate them until they are at least 16, and in some cases 18 years of age.

The Department of Labor does make a distinction between kids working for their parents and kids working for a non-parent.  There are fewer restrictions for kids working for their parents than the non-parents, possibly because the regulation writers think parents will keep an eye peeled more often than Granddad to prevent a tragic use of a two-way radio.  After all, summoning someone to come in for lunch could be fatal if the two-way radio was not used properly, I guess.

The partial exemptions for farm kids helping at home come to an abrupt halt if the operator is not father or mother.  Working on the farm of an uncle, grandfather, older brother or cousin is not acceptable.  In those cases, all prohibitions are back on.

But there is another critical prohibition and that occurs if the teenager is paid by the family corporation.  Such an entity is not a parent, and regardless of the supervisor, the proposals will not allow it. 

These proposals could become part of the Child Labor Act unless changes are made, and the Department of Labor is accepting comments through December 1.  If you have a comment, submit it here.

One of those submitting comments may be Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack because the proposed regulations are very embarrassing for him.  No, he doesn’t have a 13 year old driving a tractor back on an Iowa farm.  But Secretary Vilsack has been speaking out strongly about the need to create farming opportunities for young people.

On January 20 in Washington, Vilsack addressed the National FFA officers and said, “I would like for you to work with your fellow students and the adult leadership of the organization to develop a series of recommendations around the upcoming Farm Bill that will encourage more young people to pursue careers in farming. Over the next few years we will need 100,000 new farmers and I am looking to you for ideas, guidance and suggestions to help make that happen. If you do this in a serious thoughtful manner (which I know you will do) I will make myself and all of my Under Secretaries available to hear this report. So that we can utilize this information to guide our input to Congress, I would like to have your report to me one year from today.”

And on October 24, in Ankeny, IA, Vilsack laid out his Farm Bill priorities, expressing concern about the average age of farmers adding, “The average American farmer is 57 years of age. Nearly 30 percent of American farmers are over the age of 65, which is almost double the number of folks in the workforce over 65. Now, some of these folks want to slow down or retire; but they have no one to take over the farming operation. That challenges us to find new ways, through tax policy, through regulations, through our credit programs or other programs, to help transition farms to the next generation. We’ll need a community effort to recruit, train, and support this new generation of farmers and ranchers; and we need to make sure that it’s for operations of all sizes.”

Mr. Secretary, just like a corn kernel grows into a stalk of corn, a farm kid grows up to be a farmer.  You have to start with a seed, and your federal colleagues at the Department of Labor have been plowing up your corn field.

Source: Stu Ellis, FarmGate



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Bea Quandt    
Eldred, Illinois  |  November, 03, 2011 at 11:34 AM

These regulations are ridiculous! Of course, we want our farm kids to be safe, but get real. Thls could damage agriculture forever. And FFA and 4H will never be the same. Apparently, the Dept. of Labor folks have never been on a farm or understand the importance of keeping our kids "down on the farm." This is truly one more example of Big Brother ruling our lives.

Bea Quandt    
Eldred, Illinois  |  November, 03, 2011 at 11:34 AM

These regulations are ridiculous! Of course, we want our farm kids to be safe, but get real. Thls could damage agriculture forever. And FFA and 4H will never be the same. Apparently, the Dept. of Labor folks have never been on a farm or understand the importance of keeping our kids "down on the farm." This is truly one more example of Big Brother ruling our lives.

KIM UNRUH    
kansas  |  November, 03, 2011 at 12:03 PM

I am in the retail business. I have seen the same issue here. We have been so regulated it is hard to find any help. Our employees have to be 21 years old and have a hazmat CDL . Finger printed every couple of years, its a big joke We are telling our youth they dont have to work .People are always going to get hurt,killed on the job you cant regulate enough to stop it .There's already enough people that dont have enough to do , except sit around and make up new regulations. More than likely they never had to work either.

A.C. Schmid    
Alliance, NE  |  November, 14, 2011 at 11:14 AM

Anyone who is productive was probably taught responsibility through learning to be productive during their childhood. GOOD PARENTS/FAMILY are the "anchor". Beurocrats want to undermine this critical, natural fact of life. Look at the gangs, undeserving welfare freeloaders, lower educational rankings, etc., that have resulted in such regulatory interference in our urban society. Write your Congressmen/Congresswomen and tell "Big Brother" to "Back Off!"!!!!!! Children are eager to learn and be productive--ages 10-16+. They will develop a HEALTHY sense of purpose and self-worth if given this chance! Our government has already destroyed several generations with their uninformed, over-bearing regulation. Our attitude should be that portrayed by the standard flown by John Paul Jones--"Don't Tread on Me!" The children and family are OURS to nurture, protect, and grow into productive, honest, responsible "world citizens"--they do NOT belong to the Department of Labor or any other government entity! Write/Call/Email your Representatives!

rebecca    
marengo illinois  |  August, 15, 2013 at 07:12 AM

I was raised on a cattle farm, child labor laws? really? if you were born on a farm, you had chores, it was your responsibility to help on the farm. you learned the ways, you pulled your weight. that's just how it was.


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