Taking the ‘Family’ Out of Family Farms


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Mayer and her husband, Dwight, have children 15, 13 and 8 years old on their farm. They are among farmers nationwide who believe proposed U.S. Department of Labor regulations go too far in restricting what work kids could perform on farms, such as driving tractors and handling livestock. Kids wouldn’t even be allowed to work at a height above six feet, even on a ladder, under the new rules.

The changes, the Mayers’s say, could kill kids’ enthusiasm for becoming farmers, including young people who don’t live on farms but have part-time jobs to get farming experience.

Under the proposed rules, according to the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, someone under 18 would not even be allowed to do many chores for a neighbor.

This Labor Department plan surely would have an impact on the 4-H clubs and their young members throughout the country. The National 4-H Council is a positive youth development organization. It influences a growing number of young people to learn responsible behavior and pride in raising, working with, and caring for farm animals.

Today, we tend to overlook the importance of our vast and varied agricultural system. It is a popular belief, for instance, that World War II was the main cause that brought the United States out of the Great Depression of the 1930s and early ‘40s. In fact, however, it was agriculture that led us out of that recession.

Cornell University Professor George F. Warren, an important adviser to Franklin D. Roosevelt on rural development policy, figured out that it is agriculture that leads countries into and out of depressions.

Demands on American farmland are increasing rapidly. More than one million acres of agricultural land are developed for other purposes each year. Yet this land must supply our nation’s pressing needs for food and energy security, and economic stability,” according to the Farmland Trust. The Trust is dedicated to preserving farmland and ranchland.

What appears as a pure example of bureaucratic overreach, the Labor Department proposal could so restrict a  family farm from operating without the help of young family members, it could put some farms out of business, if they are forced to hire employees to do the work their youngsters now perform.

Consider California, Labor Department Secretary Hilda Solis’ home state and a state that can afford to hire new workers. It is also a state where farm workers can be unionized—always an objective of the Obama Administration.

Could this be a reason behind the restriction to take the family out of the family farm?

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