WASHINGTON, D.C. | July 24, 2012 -
I want to first thank my colleague from Iowa, Congressman Tom Latham, for introducing this important legislation. Representative Latham is a long-time advocate for farmers and his leadership in Congress is greatly appreciated.
According to a report on MLive.com, a news site from my home state of Michigan, parts of the country are experiencing the worst drought in more than twenty years. Jim Spink, a sixth-generation farmer from Michigan’s Liberty Township, said, “It’s going to be one of the years that separate those that are positioned well financially and those that are not.”
Unpredictability in the weather and harvest are not new challenges to America’s farmers. Quite the contrary, it is a way of life. Farmers work each day under difficult circumstances growing the food and resources necessary to power this nation. And often the presence of a son or daughter, working with their parents, is important to a farm’s long term success.
Federal labor policies recognize the support youth provide to family farms by exempting farmer workers between 14 and 16 years of age from restrictions on agriculture activities. For decades, this exemption has applied to youth working on a farm owned or operated by the parent or an individual “standing in place of their parent.” With farmers facing a tough year with high temperatures and low rainfall, we should continue to support the ability for youth to experience safe employment in American farming. That is why many were shocked when the Obama administration announced new rules that would make it virtually impossible for young people to work on family farms.
Last September, the Department of Labor proposed regulatory changes that would negatively affect youth employment in agriculture, such as narrowing the parental exemption, restricting the rules of farm ownership, and prohibiting the use of certain equipment central to a farm’s operation, even for young people who have received safety training through the Federal Services Extension program. The Labor Department even tried to prevent youth from working with non-toxic pesticides available at the local hardware store.
These proposed regulatory shifts fail to reflect the changes in farming that have occurred in recent years. We all want to keep young people safe from harm, especially when they work in an inherently dangerous environment. However, the administration’s proposal would deny youth an opportunity to gain hands-on experience that is often crucial to a farm’s survival.
Throughout our history, farms have been handed down from one generation to the next through the knowledge a future farmer gained working alongside his or her parents. Public policy should promote this great American tradition, not dismantle it.
Mister Speaker, across the country, many farmers are struggling. While I recognize the department has withdrawn its proposal for now, we owe it to these hard working men and women to remove as much uncertainty as we can, especially uncertainty caused by flawed government policies. I am proud to support the Preserving America’s Family Farms Act and urge my colleagues to vote “yes.”
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