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Rules could severely impact the work of youth on farms

March 1, 2012 | 0 comments

Farmers and their organizations should review federal Department of Labor proposals on rules that would govern the work of young people on farms - and they probably aren't going to like them.

In appearances around the state before ag groups, Ben Brancel, Wisconsin's Secretary of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is urging farmers to learn about the current proposal from the U.S. Department of Labor and how it might affect the kids they would like to have working on their farms.

Write to them, let them know what impact this would have on your farms," he told an audience of farmers Thursday in Madison.

The way the rules are now, if you have a farm with three brothers working together, none of their kids would be able to farm until they are 18 years old," he said.

During a recent meeting in Washington of NASDA - the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture - state ag secretaries and commissioners from all over the country were unanimous in their agreement that working on a farm as a young person builds enthusiasm for farming in the future, Brancel said.

It's my understanding that they (Dept. of Labor officials) have pulled the rules back but the comment was made that that happened because they hadn't done all their steps properly," he said.

We are going to have to wait and see what they actually come out with this summer."

Allowing teens to run an RTV like a Mule for recreation is fine with regulators, he said, but if that same vehicle is being used for feeding calves, for example, it would be considered illegal because it is dangerous and hazardous.

Strong focus on

youths and farms

Karen Gefvert, director of governmental affairs for Wisconsin Farm Bureau, explains that Department of Labor officials proposed changing rules that defined hazardous occupations and focused strongly on youth and farms.

A few of the rules dealt with timber and construction, but the rules were mostly focused on the safety of young people - those under 18 years of age - involved in agriculture. The rule would prevent anyone under 16 from operating tractors, or working six feet off the ground - which would prohibit them being in a haymow for example, Gefvert said.

These young people couldn't milk cows under the proposed rules, because the milking equipment is in the class with "power" equipment. These young people would be prohibited from being around a cow after she has a calf or a sow with piglets because those would be considered dangerous.

Young people wouldn't be allowed to feed calves if it involved giving medication to the calf.

"These rules would severely limit the interaction of young people on the farm," she told Wisconsin State Farmer.


Department of Labor officials had not updated these rules for 40 years and decided to do so after a report was issued by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

That report found that agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries and it is especially dangerous for youth. Farmers have reacted strongly to the proposed rules, saying that the agency has overstepped its bounds and that the rules would essentially prevent the next generation from learning about farming, Gefvert said.

By the time they are 18, they would have found other interests, farmers have told the agency.

"There is a big concern in a field and an industry where we have a hard enough time to get the next generation interested in farming," she added.

The rules make an exception for children of sole proprietor farmers, on the rationale that parents will care more about the safety of their own children than that of other young people who work on their farms. Gefvert disputes that assumption, saying that farmers will take seriously the safety of any young person working on their farm.

Even that exemption wouldn't help, for example, a dairy farm in Wisconsin which is owned by several siblings and organized as a corporation or an LLC, she said. Their children wouldn't be able to work on the farm because they are not the children of the sole owners.

The rules also wouldn't allow kids to work on their grandparents' farm.

Rule being re-proposed

The Department of Labor issued a statement on Feb. 1 that it was "re-proposing" certain parts of the rule and Gefvert said officials had indicated that it centered on the parental exemption portion of the rule.

That rule is supposed to be published in early summer after the agency gets more feedback on it, but Gefvert isn't very hopeful that the agency will make the changes farmers would like to see.

"We're not really thrilled. They have not taken many of the other suggestions made by the agriculture community."

There were 40,000 written comments submitted on the rule, mostly from ag groups who opposed them, and they resulted in little to no change in the proposal, she said.

"It's extremely disheartening to think this rule could be coming down the pike."

She believes the rules could also have a chilling effect on 4-H and FFA projects, especially those that involve livestock. The rules target work for which young people get paid, but there have been some interpretations of the relationship by which a kid keeps a steer on a farm and the farmer feeds it that could also be impacted by this rule, she said.

There is an effort planned this week to get lawmakers involved in passing a bill to circumvent the rule package.

Gefvert said there is a desire among senators to pass a legislative fix and Senate staff members were scheduled to get a briefing on the rules and their impact on Thursday (March 1.)

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