You’ve been granted free access to this subscribers only article.
Values kids learn through farm work are in jeopardy
Every summer, rural teenagers get jobs on local farms to earn some cash while being outdoors. Some just enjoy helping a relative or neighbor on his farm or ranch -- because it really is a great experience to drive a tractor.
Across rural America, young people help cut and bale hay on other people’s land. In the Midwest, many a teen has worked as a corn detasseler, removing tassels from one variety of plants so they can be pollinated by another and create a high-yield hybrid. For others, their first job might have been picking fruit in an orchard.
By working on farms, their own family’s or someone else’s, young people learn about agriculture, how to respect and care for animals, and how to work safely with farm equipment. They also learn important values, such as a good work ethic and taking on responsibility.
But under a Labor Department proposal, such work could be off-limits to minors. They would not be allowed to work on a farm that isn’t directly owned by their parents or operate any power-driven equipment -- even something as simple as a battery-powered screwdriver.
“Under this proposal, it sounds like youths would be allowed to push open the barn door, but whether they can flip the light switch inside is unclear,” explained American Farm Bureau labor specialist Paul Schlegel. “But they sure couldn’t use a flashlight or pick up a weed whacker. And they couldn’t go up in the barn loft because it’s greater than 6 feet above ground level.”
The real impacts aren’t fully understood. It could depend literally on how government regulators write the final rules and then interpret them. Most likely, young people couldn’t even work on their own family farm if, like many farms these days, it’s set up as a corporation or partnership, not wholly owned by the kid’s parents.
The Labor Department says its proposal is needed to protect young people from dangerous work. However, as is often the case when the feds deal with an issue, the proposal goes too far. It’s like trying to kill a gnat with a sledgehammer.
Farm work can have its hazards, and no one wants kids working when and where they shouldn’t be. But ask any farmer how she learned to do farm work, correctly and safely, and you’re likely to hear that she grew up doing it on either a family farm or through agricultural education programs, which also would be at risk if kids are not allowed to do many farm tasks. If we can’t train the next generation of farmers, then the implications go beyond whether a teenager can earn a little spending money.
Parents, not the federal government, should decide what’s safe for their kids. For those jobs that are particularly hazardous, the government has a role to play. But the government should at least write rules that won’t threaten the very structure of family farms and rural communities.
The comment period on the proposal has closed. Now the government will continue with the rulemaking process. As it does, it is hoped that the rules will make more sense for how farms work today, and for youngsters who want the experience of working on a farm. It will be important for farm families and agricultural educators to weigh in to ensure that outcome.
Lynne Finnerty is the editor of FBNews, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s official newspaper.
Your Opinions and Comments
Be the first to comment on this story!
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Agriculture Today Archives
Beef Cattle Management seminar (August 26, 2015)
Cotton root rot and its symptoms (August 26, 2015)
Feral hogs, water workshop (August 26, 2015)
Get acquainted with 4-H event (August 26, 2015)
Harvey places in top 20 (August 26, 2015)
Hay & Forage Report (August 26, 2015)
Livestock Market Reports (August 26, 2015)
Mobile app for hunting regs (August 26, 2015)
Registration for cattle conference (August 26, 2015)
Survey deadline (August 26, 2015)
Turkey fed to improve Texas grasslands (August 26, 2015)
Wilson County 4-H Council, Booster meetings, Sept. 2 (August 26, 2015)
Anthrax confirmed in equine in Uvalde County (August 19, 2015)
Deer association: Environmental group deceives deer industry, wildlife community (August 19, 2015)
Don’t miss your shot! Apply for drawn hunts (August 19, 2015)
Feral hog management workshop is Sept. 4 (August 19, 2015)
Hay & Forage Report (August 19, 2015)
Livestock Market Reports (August 19, 2015)
Prospects bright for dove season (August 19, 2015)
Saving tomatoes from the Texas heat (August 19, 2015)
Siblings make rodeo memories (August 19, 2015)
TDA Market Report (August 19, 2015)
Chagas disease in South Central Texas (August 12, 2015)
Eastern equine encephalitis cases reported in Texas (August 12, 2015)
Hay & Forage Report (August 12, 2015)
Leaf-dropping is common (August 12, 2015)
Livestock Market Reports (August 12, 2015)
New, stronger El Niño may bring another wet winter (August 12, 2015)
Pieniazek elected president of ag education leadership (August 12, 2015)
EPA ‘muddies’ Clean Water Act (August 5, 2015)
Hay & Forage Report (August 5, 2015)
It’s a ‘banner’ summer for Payton! (August 5, 2015)
Lantanas losing luster; mosquitoes a bother (August 5, 2015)
Livestock Market Reports (August 5, 2015)
Meuths receive Bronze Merit Award (August 5, 2015)
Shoot to benefit Don Newbury (August 5, 2015)
TDA Market Report (August 5, 2015)
August 2015 Gardening Calendar (August 1, 2015)