The Federal Government Continues Its Attack on Independent Farms

Back in August I wrote a post about the federal governments attempt to require a commercial drivers license to operate farm equipment. That ruling was eventually tossed out but the federal government is continuing its attack on independent farms through other means. The latest move is being performed by the Department of Labor in the form of a new regulation that would prohibit teenagers under the age of 16 from working on a farm unless their parents are full or part owners:

Last September, the Labor Department had proposed requiring that children under the age of 16, who work on a parent’s farm could only work on that farm if it is “wholly owned” by the parent. But after protests from farm groups and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Labor Department officials announced on Feb. 2 that they would repropose the rule and continue to allow children to work on a farm in which the parent is a part owner, a partner in a partnership, or an officer of a corporation that has a “substantial” ownership interest in the farm.

The decision represented a partial victory for farm and rural groups who have said the rule would make it impossible for rural youth to be trained in farming, doesn’t reflect modern ownership patterns, would make it impossible for grandchildren, nieces and nephews of farm owners to learn about farming and runs counter to Vilsack’s campaign to encourage young people to stay on the farm and in rural America.

I grew up in a rural community where many of my friends were hired farmhands. Their parents weren’t the owners or even partial owners of the farms and many of my friends weren’t 16 years-old yet. Age was considered an irrelevant criteria since both the kid and the parent agreed that the kid should be allowed to work.

While many people are bitching about the dangers work farm work let me say that the rate of injury isn’t nearly as high as the naysayers make it sound. Farming, like any job involving manual labor, does involve risks but those risks are usually avoidable so long as you use proper safety equipment. When I worked at my father’s autoshop I always engaged the locks on the hoist so that a failure would lead only to the vehicle falling a short distance until it hit the lock. A falling automobile is dangerous but the use of proper safety equipment mitigated that risk.

But let’s not kid ourselves, this new attempt at labor regulation has nothing to do with safety. Children are a much needed workforce for many independent farmers who can’t afford to pay wages demanded by older, more experienced farm hands (not to mention most adults move on, they seldom end up being farm hands for their entire lives). The only two options are hiring inexperienced individuals or illegal immigrants. Since the state frowns so heavily on the latter that leaves the former. Now that the state is frowning on the former as well independent farmers are being left with no option.

Large farms on the other hand can afford to hire more expensive labor since their profits are much higher. These farms can also afford lobbyists who can ask the government to make rules that hamper their small competitors. Like the state’s previous attempt to hamper small farming operations this new move is being done solely to rid the large lobbyist holding farmers of their much hated competition.

The arguments being used by the proponents of this new regulation are downright idiotic:

In the midst of the politics, the issues of child labor and safety seemed to get lost even though they are real.

Leppink, testified that 130 children, 15 years of age and younger, have died while working, and that 73 percent of these children were employed in agriculture.

So in the last 15 years 130 children have died while working but only 73 of those deaths were in the agriculture industry. That means only 4.9 children have died each year (if we spread the deaths out evenly) in the agriculture industry. While the death of any person is tragic there are for more dangerous things kids can do. 6,896 children died in 2007 in automobile accidents, that’s 1379.2 times greater than the average number killed in agriculture industry accidents (obviously my numbers are a bit loose, of course the order of magnitude is so great it doesn’t really matter). Perhaps our focus should be elsewhere when it comes to making the lives of children safer. How about the recreational sports most children enjoy:

Chris Chinn, a hog farmer from Missouri, testified that school sports activities are much more dangerous than working on the farm. Chinn said her daughters have been taken to the emergency room for school-related injuries but never for any farm injury. She also said grandparents should be allowed to supervise their grandchildren on the farm because they are even stricter than parents in what they will allow children to do.

Of course this ruling will probably make it through because it exists to “protect the children.”