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Coldwater Daily Reporter: Protecting Farm Jobs for Youths

January 25, 2013
Opinion Editorial

Every month I'm privileged to return to Michigan's 7th district and catch up with my constituents. Recently though, whether I was talking to a manufacturing plant owner or an apple farmer, a similar theme kept cropping up.  People are worried about regulations, and in particular, one which may dictate what young people can and cannot do on farms. 

The Department of Labor proposed regulations that will restrict the types of activities young people can participate in on farms.  While the rule includes an exemption for children on non-incorporated farms owned by their parents, it could prevent kids from working on incorporated farms owned by their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and close neighbors.

Even on an extended family farm, children under the age of 18 may be banned from running certain machinery, working with animals in specified situations, and prohibited from any job involving the vague description "farm-product raw materials". Such an ambiguous directive could mean that any job related to grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.  If carried any farther, the rule may even end up banning kids from selling animals at their local 4-H fairs. 

My kids all participated in 4-H fairs and the memories and life lessons learned there are irreplaceable.  In addition, my children also all worked on farms.  They were asked to drive tractors and run other machinery—all under the age of 16.Fortunately, the worst mishap one of my kids ever had was running over a neighbor's mailbox. But even through that experience, my son learned a lesson inresponsibilityas he not only had to pay for a new one out of his own pocket, but replace it himself. 

Farmers, parents and young people all depend on these jobs to keep the industry going.  While farmers and parents need the help, kids rely on these jobs to pay for college. There are often fewer job opportunities in rural areas and if we impose more rules about what jobs young people can take, what have we gained?

I'll always stand behind regulations that genuinely protect the worker, especially when those workers are children. But when government bureaucrats are regulating in what capacity a young person can work on a farm, then it's clear they've overstepped their boundaries.  It's time to fix the flawed and broken regulatory system that allows such rules to slip through the cracks.