Thursday, October 27, 2011

Vehicle of Character

Last weekend the junior livestock events were held at the American Royal in Kansas City. Once again the person selected to serve as the judge said something that I think is huge for all of us to keep in mind. Wayne Huinker, while discussing his Grand Champion market hog, said, “All of us involved realize that this isn’t about the pigs. They are simply a vehicle of character for these kids.” I could not agree more and I think he summarized it perfectly. The problem is that we have too many politicians in the country today that do not have character themselves and, even worse, they don’t understand the culture in Rural America where character comes from. Consequently, you each have a project that needs to be done today that requires you to stand up and say, “Enough already.”

If you have not heard, the Department of Labor is proposing amendments and additions to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in an attempt to increase safety requirements for young workers employed in agriculture. The proposed rules do not attempt to make changes or limit the current exemption for youth workers employed on farms owned or operated by parents, unless they are incorporated. The new rules would only apply to hired workers like your bale hauling crew.

On the surface it sounds like the proposed law is going to really assist in creating a safer work environment but instead it is going to pretty much end all kids working on farms. For example, a kid could not go help out on Grandpa’s farm. Even worse, anyone under the age of 18, who could actually drive a car legally to Grandpa’s farm, could not legally mow the lawn.

The best summary of what this proposed law change will actually do is from the Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation at Iowa State University. This interpretation of the proposed law comes directly from them.

The proposed non-ag HO prohibits employment of youth under 18 years of age in all work performed in conjunction with storing, marketing, and transporting farm-product raw materials. The proposal includes occupations performed at grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, feed yards, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions, but would not include places of employment where employees clean, sort, weigh, package and ship fruits and vegetables, or sales work involving farm-product raw materials solely done in an office.

The law would prohibit working on a farm in a yard, pen, or stall occupied by intact male equine, porcine, bovine, bison older than 6 months, sow with suckling pigs, or cow with newborn calf, or engaging or assisting in animal husbandry practices inflicting pain upon animal or likely to result in unpredictable animal behavior (breeding, branding, castrating, herding, vaccinating, dehorning, associated with herding of animals).

The provision is entitled "Occupations involving working inside fruit, forage, or grain storage silo or bin and Occupations involving working inside manure pit" and includes upright silos within two weeks after silage, manure pits, and horizontal silos while operating tractor for packing purposes). The DOL is also considering adding prohibitions that would expand the current Ag HO to include other confined spaces, such as livestock confinement buildings with or without ventilation systems.
Now I think we all fully understand that agriculture is one of the most dangerous professions in the United States. But let’s try to keep all of this in context. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that each year, in the United States alone, 20,964 young people between the ages of 5 and 19 are killed. Yes, accidents are the leading cause of death in that age range but 121 of those kids were killed simply by being pedestrians.

All reports estimate that 100 kids will die each year in farm related accidents. Honestly, as a parent I cannot imagine what this must be like. But as a parent, I also think I have a better handle on preventing those accidents than anyone writing regulations in D.C. Honestly, if you look at the numbers and the proposal, you can clearly see that kids walking down the street have the same risk as kids working on the farm. If we cannot hire kids to work on the farm, we are putting them at greater risk simply by letting them be mere pedestrians. So what have we gained?

At the end of the day, it comes back to where I started. One of the great benefits of raising kids on the farm is teaching them a good work ethic. That comes through hard work and responsibiltiy and we are close to having that stolen right away from us. Farm kids are the most employable individuals in the work pool as adults simply because they have been taught how to work and they are willing to do what it takes to get the job done.

The time for all of us to act is short. The Department of Labor is only taking comments on this issue until Nov 1, 2011. You need to log onto today and search for Fair Labor Standards and so you can comment.

We can’t let the paper pushers steal the one true “vehicle of character” that we have left in building this great nation. Do your part today!