Administration drops youth-labor proposal

Issue Date: May 2, 2012
By Kate Campbell

Farmers and their advocates expressed satisfaction with a decision by the U.S. Department of Labor to drop proposed regulations that would have prevented young people from doing many routine tasks on family farms and ranches. The Labor Department announced last week it had withdrawn the proposed rule, which farm groups said would have placed unnecessary restrictions on family farms and ranches.

"Few issues have galvanized family farmers and ranchers like this one did," said California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger. "Everyone who has grown up on a farm or ranch recognizes the value of allowing young people to learn by doing."

Originally proposed last year, the regulations would have prohibited minors from working on a farm that wasn't directly owned by their parents or from operating any power-driven equipment. Earlier this year, the Labor Department announced plans to revise the "parental exemption" portion of the rule—before announcing last week that it would drop the new regulations altogether.

The Labor Department said that instead of pursuing new regulations, it would work with "rural stakeholders" such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, Future Farmers of America and 4-H, "to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural practices."

"No one cares more about the safety of young people than their parents, grandparents and family members who work alongside them on the farm," said Wenger, who farms walnuts and almonds on his family farm in Modesto.

Discussions about the proposed rule to drastically limit the tasks young people could perform in family agricultural businesses have topped the agenda during visits by Farm Bureau leaders to members of Congress and federal agencies, Wenger said, adding that the agency's decision shows the influence that people have "when they engage their government respectfully and make their case convincingly."

The proposed rule, which would have restricted the ability of farmers and ranchers to hire people younger than 18, prompted more than 18,000 comments from throughout the nation, most opposed to the proposal.

"This victory for farm families is due to the thousands of farmers and ranchers who sent comments to the Labor Department opposing the rules and continued to voice their concerns with members of Congress," AFBF President Bob Stallman said. "This announcement shows the strength of American agriculture and grassroots action."

Members of Congress also welcomed the Labor Department decision.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said the rules would have threatened a way of life, preventing young people from such simple tasks as operating a battery-powered screwdriver or using a pressurized garden hose.

"Those regulations were very specific (and included) things that seemed very lacking in common sense and in many ways just crazy," Moran said.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said he was pleased the "misguided proposal" had been withdrawn.

"This proposed rule created great angst in the countryside about the impact it would have had on the future of the family farm," Lucas said. "It was a concern that agricultural producers kept raising during our farm bill field hearings."

Lucas commended farmers and ranchers and noted that the Labor Department action was due "in no small part to the entire agriculture community working together. It's a reminder of what we can achieve when we are united by a common goal."

Stallman called withdrawal of the proposed rule the "right decision for our nation's family-based agriculture system." He said Farm Bureau appreciated the administration's decision and the efforts of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack "to listen to farmers, ranchers and other rural Americans."

Stallman said Farm Bureau will continue working to ensure that the parental exemptions that remain important to farmers and ranchers will be protected.

"We will continue to educate families about the importance of farm safety," he said. "We also look forward to working with the departments of Agriculture and Labor, as well as rural stakeholders, to develop programs for safer agricultural working practices for everyone, including our next generation of family farmers."

Wenger noted that the number of on-farm injuries involving young people has been declining.

"All of us remain committed to reducing that number further," he said. "We're pleased that the Department of Labor recognized the value of allowing young people to work on family farms and ranches."

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.