The family farm faces serious threat with new regulations
In Central Washington, the vast majority of farms are family-owned and operated. Agriculture is the backbone of our economy. More than that, it’s a way of life.
Unfortunately, this way of life faced a very real threat this past year, when Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis proposed new regulations that would have effectively prevented those under the age of 16 from doing any sort of farm-related work. Activities like feeding a baby calf a bottle, picking apples or loading a hay truck would have been outlawed.
At the time, the Department of Labor (DOL) pointed to an exception that if a farm was solely owned by the child’s parents, some activities would be allowed. However, as those in farm communities know, this exception is not realistic. Many farms are jointly owned and operated by multiple family members, and it is common practice for families to work together with their neighbors during busy times. Often, the only job opportunity available for young people from rural areas is farm work.
The proposed rule went so far as to prevent kids participating in 4-H or Future Farmers of America from showing animals at livestock shows or their local fair.
If implemented, this rule would have quite literally changed the face of rural America for the future. Already, fewer and fewer young people are coming back to the family farm. The latest census reported the average age of the American farmer to be 57, and it continues to rise.
If young people are forbidden from working on the farm until they are almost out of high school, then this is going to make it practically impossible to engage the next generation of our nation’s food producers.
There is no question that farming has its dangers. For generations, families have addressed these dangers by teaching and constantly working with their children to recognize and minimize the risks that they face. This would be very difficult to do if kids are kept off of the farm until they turned 16.
For these reasons, I cosponsored legislation to bar DOL from enacting rules barring youth from working in agriculture jobs. In addition I signed a bipartisan letter with 152 Members of Congress urging Secretary Solis to eliminate the rule.
Fortunately, after a major outcry among the American people and within Congress, DOL announced on April 26 that they would withdraw this rule. While I applaud this decision, I remain concerned that the Administration even proposed a rule so far removed from common sense in the first place – and that it took eight months for them to withdraw it.
I have always supported the American agriculture industry, especially producers in Central Washington. So in a time when the global Market increases competition, we must do everything we can to support and ensure the rights of our farmers and families remain protected.