For many family farmers the emphasis is on family —family working at chores and actual farming, daily, from dawn ‘til dusk, to get those crops in and that livestock tended to. To do it, it takes manpower, but with the thin margins in modern farming it often takes family power —kids working on the farm in as many tasks as are safe for them to do. It’s tradition, it’s reality.
For awhile this year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor pushed for rules that would preclude anyone under 16 from using power equipment, such as tractors, the basic farming unit. They would also have had to be 18 to work at grain elevators, silos or feedlots. The rules would not have applied to children working at farms owned by their parents, but they would have limited paid jobs that kids could do at neighboring farms or those of their grandparents and other relatives. Are those farms strangely less safe than Dad and Mom’s?
The fact it is dangerous work. Nearly everyone can tell horror stories and about guys caught in a power take-off (PTO) or kids falling into augers, but for the U.S. government to propose a one-size-fits-all rule that would economically damage many families was truly frowned upon. Didn’t they know about tradition? Didn’t they know about the family nature of family farming? Didn’t they know how young people learn about agriculture and how to operate a farm? Didn’t they know that labor costs on farms could skyrocket without family doing the farming tasks?
Yes, they did know. But they also knew that bad things could happen down on the farm, despite the fact that fewer children are being injured in farming operations due to good safety education in 4-H and FFA programs. The bureaucrats at Labor had children’s best interests in mind. Parents in farming felt otherwise and an outcry ensued through agricultural groups on the national level.
According to the Associated Press, John Myers, chief of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Administration, it was unfortunate the agency dropped its proposal, but he noted the agency would not pursue the ban again “as long as Barack Obama is president.” He further stated: “I have not seen any youth working in other industries that are high risk. Farming may be an accepted risk for the parent, but the question is to put that risk on the child. That’s the question that’s not being adequately addressed.”
The problem is that farming is not merely an industry; it’s a way of life. It’s a way in which generations of the same family have made their living from hard work on the land, and in doing so have bolstered the U.S. and world economies. Within that tradition are the tools kids need to succeed their parents and grandparents on the farm. Safety is all-important on the farm but it has to be brought through the bosom of the family, not enforced from Washington.
There simply is no way to escape danger in an unsafe world. All we can do is to do our best to make it safer — even on the farm. That was the message of the farm groups. The beat goes on.
I’ll see ya.
An Iowa native, Peter Graham has been a rural newspaper editor for 39 years. He currently edits a twice-weekly paper in Western Iowa. You can contact him at (712) 642-2791 or news@missourivalley times.com