CONFER: Changes to child labor laws hurt farmers
Farming is not a job. It’s a lifestyle. The job is never done, and it’s never easy; it takes a special soul to work the long, hard days during the planting and harvesting seasons or live the vacation-free existence that comes with animal husbandry. At the same time, it’s the most important industry on the planet, and farmers will tell you it’s the most fulfilling: Besides raising a family, there is little on Earth more rewarding than tending the soil and growing from it — and raising on it — valuable nourishment for others.
To prepare someone for that intense lifestyle you need to start young and introduce teens to the work ethic and investment of self that are necessary to develop a love affair with farming. Youth have long been able to participate in agricultural work but that could change soon. The Obama administration has unveiled a series of proposed revisions to child labor law specific to farming. Citing provisions that have remained virtually untouched since 1970, the administration felt compelled to modernize them. That act of modernization will irreparably harm farming’s future by destroying its very foundation — the youth who should represent tomorrow’s workforce and farm owners.
Under the new rules, the Department of Labor would end most child labor exemptions that currently exist in farming by denying work to anyone under the age of 16, unless the farm is owned by their parents and one of the parents is directly overseeing their work.
Furthermore, most 14- and 15-year-old workers would be prevented from operating any tractor, all-terrain vehicle, milking machine, or lawn mower. Now, exemptions exist that allow them to operate such equipment given they complete a 24 hour safety course, typically provided by the private sector via farm bureaus or through public-private Cooperative Extension offices. The proposed rules would create and require a 90-hour course that could only be taught through government-run secondary and/or vocational schools. This would add another layer of federal bureaucracy to local school districts; increase the cost to taxpayers associated with the wages, benefits and pensions for the newfound teaching positions; or, more likely, deprive thousands of youth of farming opportunity because their local schools — or any one within reasonable commute — will be unable to provide them the necessary training.