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Agricultural News

Congressman Lankford Speaks Up for Freedom of the Family Farm

Mon, 28 Nov 2011 16:03:18 CST

Congressman Lankford Speaks Up for Freedom of the Family Farm The following is an opinion editorial article by Congressman James Lankford regarding the rule by the Department of Labor that prohibits youth from working on farms not owned by their parents.

"It is hard to imagine anything more in line with the traditional Norman Rockwell image of America than a family farm. Millions of youth have learned responsibility, ingenuity, the "never quit" work ethic and a deep respect for the environment through life lived and worked on farms. In rural Oklahoma, families still help their neighbors harvest crops, move livestock and fix fences. To understand how deep our cultural roots connect to the family farm, remember that summer vacation for our kids is originally linked to them helping out and working on the farms.

Today, the family farm has become the latest target of the Obama Administration. While the official talking points bemoan the transition to corporate-everything, the current administration is actually squeezing out the family farm and forcing agriculture to transition to a corporate-owned and managed agri-business. I support corporate-owned farms and their efforts to grow our economy, but I strongly oppose regulations upon family farms that require them to mirror corporate structure.

Earlier this year, the administration backed off a rule that would require dairy farms to maintain emergency procedures and equipment for "oil spills" in case they experienced a large release of milk (yes, milk). The Environmental Protection Agency has seriously studied new particulate rules around farms that would limit dust. Currently, a family farmer cannot drive his own pickup with a trailer to the next state to pick up seed, buy hay or take an animal to the sale barn without a CDL license and other federal restrictions. The administration has also released rules that if a farm hires legal migrant workers, it must pay union wages (which ultimately encourages farms to hire illegal workers).

Now, on top of all the other regulations, the Obama administration is proposing a rule that prohibits youth from working on farms not owned or operated by their parents, without strict limits. The proposed rule includes things like prohibition of a minor riding on a tractor as a passenger or listening to an iPod while driving a tractor. In fact, there are fifty pages of proposed rules for minors working on farms. This new collection of rules would kill the longstanding tradition of neighboring families helping each other during planting, harvest or any other high labor seasons. Under the proposed rule, a family farm would even have limits on cousins, grandchildren or other extended family members working on the farm. I can only imagine what this rule will mean for 4-H and FFA programs.

The rule proposes protection for children from farm accidents, which is a laudable goal; but according to the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, childhood agricultural injuries dropped by almost 60 percent between 1998 and 2009. This means that today's farms are safer than ever. Many so-called "farm accidents" are not actually farm work-related since the leading cause of injury is due to ATV accidents.

While most people no longer live on farms, we can all agree that federal regulators moving into a neighborhood (even a rural neighborhood) to tell our families that we cannot work together violates everything about our core American freedom and values. A few months ago, my colleagues and I wrote a letter to Hilda Solis, our Secretary of Labor, to ask her to extend the comment time for this proposed rule. She agreed, and now comments will be accepted online until December 1 of this year at www.regulations.gov (reference number 1235 AA06) or by mail at Wage and Hour Division, U.S., Department of Labor, Room S 3502, 200, Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20210. If you have an opinion about this rule, I suggest you share it quickly. To read the full text of the proposed rule, go to regulations.gov and type in "youth farm labor" in the search box.

If you want to find common sense, you should head to a family farm, not Washington D.C."



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