Time for youth to get their hands dirty

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“Let Me Get My Hands Dirty” is a newly launched campaign by the Nebraska Farm Bureau defending the right of children to work on agricultural operations.  

The campaign comes in response to proposed rules by the U.S. Department of Labor that would prohibit youth under the age of 16 from operating power equipment, working with livestock in certain circumstances, driving tractors or working at heights above 6 feet.

It should be noted that the rules would not apply to children working for their parents.

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson recently rallied FFA students at a state-wide convention. 

"As I stand here today, surrounded by hundreds of blue jacket-wearing Nebraska FFA students, I am here to say that Nebraska Farm Bureau will not stand by and allow the (Department of Labor) to attack the core and heritage of Nebraska agriculture,” Nelson said. This proposed rule is unbelievably restrictive and it will prevent young people from being able to get their hands dirty on farms and ranches across the state. FFA students would not even be allowed to follow their own motto, ‘Learning To Do, Doing To Learn, Earning To Live, Living To Serve.’”

In particular, the Nebraska Farm Bureau is asking 4-H and FFA students, detasslers and others to sign documents expressing their concern. The documents will be sent to the Department of Labor to illustrate how many agriculture producers -- both young and old -- are opposed to the rule. Individuals are also urged to share their story about how the rule will affect the future success of agriculture.

“The safety of children working in agriculture is always our first priority. However, it simply does not make sense for the DOL to limit or restrict what children have historically been allowed to do on farms and ranches when all they are looking for is to gain agricultural experience or make money for college,” Nelson said.

The campaign was launched just days before a new USDA report showed that injuries on farms have declined signficantly - almost cut in half - since 2001. Read more here.

Changes to the child labor rule were proposed in 2011, and since then the changes have been the subject of much debate between agriculture groups, politicians and the public. Dozens of agriculture groups have expressed their concerns to the Department of Labor. Other groups, including the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), support the changes. In a news release, the CLC noted that 75 percent of the youth under the age of 16 who died from work-related injuries worked in agriculture. 

Despite the statistics, Linda Osier, who lost her son in a farming accident in 2010, voiced her concerns that the changes wouldn’t necessarily make farm jobs safer for youth. Instead, it would keep them from getting agriculture jobs in the first place.

"I am all for children working on farms with supervision and proper instruction," Osier said. "If the government takes that away, our youth will lose a lot. It's important that kids have the chance to work on farms; it develops their work ethic and gives them more opportunities for job experience in small towns."

Politicians have also weighed in, including U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who called some of the provisions “terribly offensive.” USDA Secretary Vilsack said in an interview with AgriTalk that he is working with the Department of Labor to ensure that agriculture’s concerns about the changes are heard.

In early February, the Department of Labor announced plans to re-propose the "parental exemption" portion of its regulation on child labor in agriculture in response to requests from the public and members of Congress for the agency to allow for more input on the rule. The re-proposal process will seek comments and inputs as to how the Department of Labor can comply with statutory requirements to protect children, while respecting rural traditions. The re-proposed portion of the rule is expected to be published for public comment by early summer.

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