Editor’s Note: The following article was released by the Illinois Farm Bureau on April 26. Late Thursday, the DOL announced that they have withdrawn their proposed changes to the child labor laws that would have directly impacted farm families and the future for agriculture. Read more about their decision here.  

Yesterday was Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. In fact, it was the 20th anniversary of this program, which encourages parents and children to "share how they envision the future and begin steps toward their end goals."

But does this apply to the farm? Regulations proposed by the Department of Labor (DOL) would restrict the situations in which young people could work on farms and limit the types of work they could do.

"If this proposal goes into effect, not only will the shrinking rural workforce be further reduced, and our nation's youth be deprived of valuable career training opportunities, but a way of life will begin to disappear," warned Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).

Thune and his Senate colleague Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) have introduced the Preserving America's Family Farms Act (S. 2221) to block the DOL from implementing regulations that, as originally proposed, would limit youth from working in orchards and fields harvesting fruits and vegetables, working with farm animals and common farm equipment and working on farms not wholly owned by their parents. A House companion bill (H.R. 4157) is sponsored by Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa).

The DOL last September proposed new hazardous occupation orders that would bar anyone under age 16 from:

  • using power-driven equipment,
  • working with pesticides,
  • working around manure pits and silos, and
  • other situations the department deems too hazardous.

In a previous statement, Illinois Farm Bureau President Philip Nelson said, "Based on the very legitimate concerns of farm families in Illinois and across the country, it's clear that the Department of Labor has taken a step back to reevaluate the family farm exemption in its proposed child farm labor rule. By the same token, this far-reaching rule would still severely limit supervised educational work opportunities for 14- and 15-year-olds and strictly prohibit teens from activities like herding cattle on horseback and using certain equipment like a battery powered screw driver. Unfortunately, it doesn't clearly define 'family farm,' which could negatively affect the ability of children to work on extended family members' farms.

DOL has defended its proposal, saying that children working on their parents' farms would continue to be exempt from the rules. Opponents say that the proposal jeopardizes exemptions for farms partly owned by extended family, as is common in modern agriculture, and could leave non-farm FFA and 4-H kids who want to work on a farm to gain experience or complete a project out of luck.

The average age of principal farmers in the U.S. was 57, according to the most recent Census of Agriculture. If long-term trends hold, the 2012 census will find the average age has risen to 58. Those aged 65 and up make up the fastest growing group of farmers. The number of farmers under age 45 declined 14% in the last census, contributing to concerns about whether there are enough new entrants into farming.

The proposal has been met with a significant backlash from farm country. Farm-friendly members of Congress have launched www.keepfamiliesfarming.com, a website where the farming community can share their positive experiences of growing up doing farm work and learning valuable life lessons.

As the rest of America takes their children to work today, Illinois Farm Bureau encourages its members and their families to visit the Keep Families Farming website and continue to register concerns about the proposed Department of Labor rules.

The DOL is reviewing the thousands of comments it received on its proposal and could finalize by August the list of jobs young people aren't allowed to do. Meanwhile, congressional opposition to the proposal is growing. Almost half of the Senate- 44 senators-have cosponsored the Preserving America's Family Farms Act. The bill has 39 cosponsors so far in the House.

Source: Illinois Farm Bureau