Proposed U.S. Farm Child Labor Laws Could Impact How We Raise Farm Kids


Alot of conversation has been buzzing in the agriculture community, since the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) put forward for suggested changes to its regulations on child labor in agriculture. The DOL is trying to make youth labor regulations in on-farm and non-farm employment more similar. The department’s goal is to improve safety conditions for youth employed in agriculture.

Local teenagers work on the Koehler family farm. Summer, 2010

Of course we all want to provide for the safety of our farm employees, especially youth. But those of us who grew up farming understand that compared to other occupations, farming can be hazardous. So we find ourselves asking the question, “What’s a better way to teach future farmers about those dangers: by alienating them from the dangers, or by showing them how to avoid or work safer around hazards?”

We do believe that work safety continues to improve as we integrate more technology, become more aware of farm safety issues, improve our farm facilities and become better managers. And we need to do our part and continue to improve work safety on our farms.

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Instead of more regulations that impose further into our lives, most farmers would prefer continuing the educational programs and farm safety workshops that bring awareness to both adults and youth. Most of all, farmers stand by our ability to work side-by-side with our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and young employees, providing real-life instruction (at appropriate ages) on how to responsibly avoid the dangers inherent in our hard-working profession.

As the DOL continues to sift through the comments they have received on the proposed changes, the department may alter some of their original proposals. It also appears that the DOL will again open its revisions to public comment. We need to make our voices heard, so youth can still have a place on the farm. In a society where white-collar careers have become the symbols for success, and hard, dirty work can be looked down upon, we should not discourage today’s youth from trying a job in farming.

What do you think? How can we best provide for the safety of young farm workers, while still encouraging them to farm?


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