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Keeping farm kids safe

I am a farm girl through and through. If you and I have met and held just one simple conversation, you know I grew up on a farm; most all of my hobbies still involve agriculture in some way; AND I love to talk farming with ANYONE (farmers, consumers, students and legislators)! So how did I gain such a passion for agriculture, you ask? I learned it by being involved in my family farming operation. I spent as much time as I could as my dad’s sidekick. I helped check fence, ship hogs, move cattle and walk soybeans, just to name a few duties. Being involved in the family farming operation was how I spent my time as a youth.

Don’t get me wrong. Life on a farm was not always hard work. My two sisters and I spent summers exploring the back pasture, swinging on the rope in the hay barn and playing in the creek behind the house. We also spent time showing horses on the weekends and showing cattle and hogs at the 4-H and FFA fairs. All of these activities that I mention bring back great memories. I worked hard, but I learned a lot as I grew up working on a farm along with the rest of my family.

I bring up this story because as proud as I am to have the chance to raise my kids on the farm, I am not sure they will be able to have the same great learning experiences that I had. Their right to grow up, being actively involved in a farming operation seems to be slipping away as governmental regulations creep closer and closer under the proposed child farm labor rule.

Here is a little background. Last September, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a rule that would affect the employment of youth in agriculture. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) permits youth under the age of 16 to work in agriculture but also authorizes the labor secretary to designate certain activities or occupations that may be “particularly hazardous” and to prohibit youth from being employed in such jobs. Such restrictions do not apply to youths employed on farms owned or operated by their parents or individuals standing in place of their parents. But, the DOL’s proposal would greatly restrict permissible jobs for those younger than 16, in addition to narrowing the parental exemption. The DOL also appeared to be motivated to expand restrictions in the future, including prohibiting youth in some circumstances from working in extreme temperatures and being paid piece rates.

The problem I find with this is that we have government regulators interfering with the way we raise our children on the farm. In many cases, these people have likely never visited a farm, but somehow they seem to think that they know what is best for our children. They don’t know or even care that farm safety is emphasized every day. I am bothered by this trend, and I know others are too as I have taken phone call after phone call from family farmers asking what can be done.

The Department of Labor and our elected officials must be told our side of the story. Illinois Farm Bureau and dozens of other national agricultural organizations have filed extensive comments with DOL objecting to the proposals. 

Don’t get me wrong. Farm Bureau is not opposed to Fair Labor Standards Act provisions that prevent youth from working in hazardous jobs, but it does not support broad, unfounded regulations that impinge on family farms and the employment of youths in occupations that are not particularly hazardous.

As spring arrives and planters start to roll and new life emerges on the farm, join me in taking a stand for youth’s involvement on family farms. Call Congressman Adam Kinzinger and ask him to cosponsor H.R. 4157. You can also visit www.keepfamiliesfarming.com/. Share your story about why it is imperative that today’s youth learn essential life skills while being actively involved in the family farming operation. 

Jill Frueh is the manager at the Bureau County Farm Bureau.

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