(Op-Ed) New Young Farm Worker Regs Defy Common Sense
The following was submitted by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst.
Here in Missouri, we’re working together to find commonsense solutions to move our state forward.
Our state’s unemployment rate has been improving, in large part because Missouri’s exports of agricultural and other products to international markets set an all-time record in 2011. Our hard-hit farm communities from northwest Missouri to the Bootheel are rebuilding and recovering after last year’s floods as well.
For example, in recent months, the State of Missouri has provided $4.5 million to local levee, road and drainage districts to help them repair and rebuild after last year’s historic floods. These funds will help local jurisdictions meet their share of the costs associated with rebuilding efforts, and ensure that our farms and communities have the protection they need to move forward.
While Missouri’s agriculture industry continues to lead, we’re also keeping an eye on some misguided attempts in Washington to disrupt our rural way of life. One area of concern is a new set of proposed rules by the U.S. Department of Labor that would dramatically limit the ability of young people to help on farms.
Baling hay and doing chores are rites of passage for young people in the heartland. Helping on the farm is how young people learn responsibility, dependability and the value of hard work. It’s how we make sure the next generation is ready to take the reins of family farms.
These proposed rules in Washington would limit the types of chores young people could perform on farms, such as prohibiting them from using lawnmowers and power tools, from baling hay, and from performing basic animal husbandry practices. The proposed rules also change the existing parental exemption, which could make it harder for young people to help on farms owned by grandparents and other relatives.
By the language of the rules themselves, these are not isolated examples or exaggerations. Take, for instance, how the proposed rules dealing with the operation of farm equipment would apply to a 15-year-old who runs a weed eater around grain bins on his relative’s or neighbor’s farm.
In the proposed rules, which apply to youths under the age of 16, the U.S. Department of Labor defines “operating” to include “starting, stopping or any other activity, including physical contact” with equipment. The definition of “power-driven equipment,” in turn, includes “all machines, equipment, implements, vehicles and/or devices operated by any power source other than human hand or foot power, except for office machines and agriculture tractors. …” Under a plain reading of the proposed rules, therefore, the U.S. Department of Labor would prohibit a 15-year-old from running a weed eater on his neighbor’s farm. That defies common sense.
That’s why we join together to continue to call on the U.S. Department of Labor to listen to the concerns of heartland families and withdraw these ill-advised rules.
While Washington is mired down in gridlock, here in Missouri we’re moving forward. We’re working together – to balance our budget, to hold the line on taxes, to protect our perfect Triple-A credit rating, and to rebuild farms and communities affected by floods and other disasters.
Missouri’s commonsense approach is paying off. Washington could sure learn a thing or two from the Show-Me State.