Taking the 'Family' Out of Family Farms

Government is meddling in parents' and kids’ right to choose.

Barack Obama’s Labor Department wants to take the “family” out of family farms. The federal nanny state seeks to operate full force in the croplands and barnyards across America to keep farm kids from getting valuable work experience and subverting parental responsibility.

The Labor Department’s proposal would make “law-breakers” of young people learning such valuable lessons as how to care for animals, how machines run, how crops grow, and how a business works. The government would discourage youth enterprise at a time when the Obama depression and the pop culture have combined to denigrate the work ethic.

When child labor laws were enacted in the last century, family farms were exempted. But no more. The Obama Labor Department sees many chores as too dangerous for youngsters.

Here are some of what the Labor Department proposes:

  • Strengthen child labor prohibitions regarding “agricultural work with animals in timber operations, manure pits, storage bins, and pesticide handling.”
  • Prohibit kids “under age 16 from employment in cultivation, harvesting and curing tobacco.”
  • Ban youth from using “electronic devices, including communication devices while operating power-driven equipment.”
  • Ban kids under age 16 from operating “almost all power-driven equipment.”
  • Prohibit “children under 18 from being employed in storing, marketing and transporting of farm-product raw materials…”

So, the federal government, which always thinks it knows best, plans to make choices that farmers and farm kids themselves have made for generations.

Today the country has about 2 million farms. Ninety percent of them are family-owned farms.

Although the regulations say they would not apply to children working on a farm “owned” by their parents, they would apply to a farm owned by a grandparent, some other relative, or a farm legally structured as a corporation or business partnership, as so many family farms are these days. It makes sense for such farms to form corporations to take advantage of legal and accounting benefits.

For centuries, farming has been a family affair. Family members, including the children, worked from dawn to dusk to put food on their tables and the tables of the rest of the country—and much of the world—for many generations.

No one wants to see children exploited or endangered. When child labor laws were instituted in the last century, family farms were exempted. Now, however, as a Nov. 28 story in TriplePundit asked: Are the proposed new laws aimed at improving safety, or “do they meddle too much with parent and child rights to choose as individuals?”

The regulations could put an end to many jobs for farm kids, according to a Milwaukee Journal Nov. 22 article.

“As Americans,” Shelly Mayer was quoted as saying, “we are too protective of our children when it comes to physical labor.

"We have raised a generation of ‘bubble-wrap babies,’” she says.

"Parents dote so much on kids, they practically need an oxygen mask to go outside. And we wonder why they can't function in society."

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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