America’s family, farmers, ranchers win major victory
In the style similar to the July 2009 Gov. Sarah Palin tweet regarding mama grizzlies, the Department of Labor has found that family ag operators will fight for their offspring to hand down traditions and heritage to the next generation. The department had proposed farm safety regulations for youth. A major victory was announced April 26, when the Department of Labor withdrew the proposed youth labor regulations.
Texas Agriculture Commiss-ioner Todd Staples may have summed up the situation best in a Dec. 12 letter to Labor Department Secretary Hilda L. Solis.
“The rule proposal creates an unrealistic and counter-productive approach to accomplishing the goal of farm safety,” Staples said. “This regulatory approach undermines the hard-working values of farming families, which has delivered for centuries a safe and affordable food supply to American dinner tables.”
Under the proposed changes, students involved in 4-H clubs or FFA chapters could have their hands tied in learning common animal husbandry skills, even the simple task of operating a battery-powered screwdriver or pressurized garden hose. See “Labor snapshot” for a partial listing of restrictions.
The changes were proposed as the farming population is largely 55 years old or older. Organizations such as the National Grange warned that limiting youth farming activities “could have a lasting impact on agriculture,” and “we are soon going to run out of knowledgeable and motivated agriculturalists” if the proposals were approved.
National Grange Legislative Director Nicole Palya Wood, in a Dec. 14 press release, “cited recent predictions that show U.S. farmers and ranchers must double production by 2050 to fulfill global food needs.”
In a grass-roots effort, thousands of comments were forwarded to the Labor Department during the comment period. Others visited Washington, D.C., to voice their concerns, including the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, and 175 Texas Farm Bureau member families, in support of “Preserving America’s Farm Act.” See “Vehement opposition” for more on why they opposed the proposed rules.
U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida, chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry, co-sponsored the “Preserving America’s Family Farm Act,” HR 4157, to prevent the Department of Labor from enacting the restrictions.
Rooney wrote in a March 27 press release, these restrictions “threaten generations of farm tradition and culture. ... The language of the proposed rule is so specific it would even ban youth from operating a battery powered screwdriver or a pressurized garden hose.”
With the April 26 Department of Labor announcement to withdraw, the department, in a press release, acknowledged the mass comment campaign as part of the reason for withdrawing, and added the need for educational programs.
“The Department of Labor and Agriculture will work with rural stakeholders -- such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the Future Farmers of America, and 4-H -- to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices.”
Three national/state organizations made the following comments in press releases:
•“There is no substitute for the hands-on training and cultivation of young work ethic that occurs every day on family farms and in hometown co-ops. The legacy of family farms is already a very expensive one to inherit and more and more we see the numbers of farmers declining.”
--National Grange President Ed Luttrell (May 2)
•“Young people involved in agriculture gain valuable experience and a strong work ethic that benefit all aspects of agriculture, including the consumer. ... These proposed regulations would not only have limited the ability of youth to prepare for a career in agriculture, but also would have taken away the ability of parents to make decisions with their children regarding safe agricultural work practices, and instead placing the decision in the hands of the federal government.”
--Joe Parker Jr., president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (April 27)
•“The strength of our industry is built on that understanding of the land, passed down from grandparents to parents to children. The families that comprise the soybean industry know that on-farm experience is the best teacher and part of the rural tradition and work ethic that has made our country’s farm economy strong.”
--Danny Murphy, American Soybean Association first vice president (April 27)
Under the proposed rules withdrawn by the Department of Labor April 26, the following restrictions would have applied to youth:
•Tractors operated by 14- and 15-year-olds must be equipped with roll-over protective structures (ROPS) and seat belts.
•Students operating tractors (and other farm equipment) on public roads must have a valid state driver license.
•Certain occupations for youth, such as branding, breeding, dehorning, vaccinating, castrating, treating sick/injured animals, and catching chickens for butchering would be prohibited.
•Eliminating training through the Cooperative Extension Programs
•Prohibit youth ages 18 years and younger from completing tasks at elevations more than 6 feet high
•Prohibit youth from working at stockyards and grain and feed facilities.
Sources: Oct. 14 South Livestock Standard; U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida March 27 press release.