The House Small Business Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade, held a hearing last week focused on the future of the family farm and the effect of proposed Department of Labor regulations on small business producers. Chris Chinn, a Missouri hog farmer testifying on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation, told the subcommittee that young people and the contributions they make as members of farm and ranch families are vital to American agriculture.
Chinn says the proposed regulations could significantly limit the jobs their children, aged 14 and 10, could do on their own farm, and especially their grandparents' farm. The regulations strip away the ability of youth to work in agriculture, and the desire and goal of parents to pass on to our children the traditions and values we hold.
Responding to the DOL announcement it would re-propose the "parental exemption", Chinn said, "It is clear to all of us in the agricultural community that merely 'tweaking' the rule will not fix something that we believe is fundamentally flawed. Clearly there is a lack of appreciation and grasp in the proposed regulations of what it is like to live in rural America."
DOL Deputy Administrator Nancy Leppink insisted to the House Small Business Subcommittee her agency's top priority is the safety of farm kids, whose injury and fatality rate she claimed is far higher than in any other industry.
"Agriculture is the most hazardous industry that either adults or children work in," Leppink said. "This regulation is only targeting the very youngest, and we are only targeting those jobs that are the most hazardous."
Kids 15 and younger, under the rule the agency is now reworking, could not have worked as hired hands even on relative's farms or partnerships owned by their parents.
Rural lawmakers bristled at the intrusion in what they called a way of life that gives kids values, a work ethic and careers in farming.
"I think the Department of Labor is overstepping its boundaries, its knowledge base, and frankly I think you're sitting around watching 'Blazing Saddles' and that is your interpretation of what goes on in the West," Representative Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., said. "Mr. Chairman, I assure you as chairman of the Appropriation's Subcommittee on Labor that you haven't seen the last of this. I will have a rider on my appropriations bill that I right for the House of Representatives that will keep you from implementing this rule."
Chinn concluded there's an overwhelming feeling in agriculture that the whole proposal, which has drawn some 10,000 comments, is fundamentally flawed and most feel it should be totally withdrawn.
"We don't need people in Washington, D.C., telling us what our children can and cannot do on our family farm," Chinn said. "We're pretty good at doing that ourselves. Our children are never allowed to go near our bull or our grain augers. They are not allowed to be around a tractor that is mowing hay unless they are inside that tractor, in a buddy seat, with a seat belt on."