News Briefs - Sept. 22, 2011

News Briefs: Child farm workers | Ag labor | Ag spending bill

Buckeye Farm News

Changes proposed to tighten safety rules for child farm workers

The U.S. Department of Labor is proposing revisions to regulations on child labor. The agricultural hazardous occupations orders under the Fair Labor Standards Act have not been updated since they were established in 1970. The proposed rule would tighten child labor regulations prohibiting agricultural work with animals and in pesticide handling, timber operations, manure pits and storage bins. It would prohibit workers under the age of 16 from participating in the cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco. Plus it would prohibit youth in both agricultural and nonagricultural employment from using electronic devices while operating power-driven equipment. The American Farm Bureau Federation supplied preliminary comments to the Department of Labor last fall as it began working on the proposals. Farm Bureau supports retention of the present family farm exemptions from the child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Ag labor a topic of discussion

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee is taking up the topic of agriculture’s labor issues, which could be welcome news for many. According to American Farm Bureau Federation Labor Specialist Paul Schlegal, it has been a struggle to get lawmakers to understand the special circumstances farmers face.

“Any farmer will tell you, if I don’t have the crew I need when I need them I’m going to lose my crop, my investment and my income,” Schlegal said. Many farmers depend on migrant workers to operate but have faced hurdles in finding the workers they need. Schlegal describes what agriculture would like to see in any new labor program.

“Ideally we are going to get a program which 1) covers all of agriculture. 2) We need a program that gets farmers the workers they need when they need them and in an efficient, economic way. There can’t be an inflated wage. There can’t be requirements such as housing and transportation that are so onerous that it’s not going to keep the farmer economically competitive. And 3) once we have that program, we have to make sure there’s a sufficient transition period into that program.”

Senate plans mark-up of ag spending bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee is working on the agriculture spending bill for fiscal 2012. Congress has until Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, to pass 12 appropriations bills. Farm Bureau submitted a statement for the record to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture regarding Agriculture Department spending for fiscal 2012, expressing strong opposition to using the fiscal 2012 ag appropriation bill to make changes to the farm safety net.

Farm Bureau also identified three priorities for emphasis and funding for discretionary USDA programs in the bill, including programs that expand export markets for agriculture, promote broadband expansion and further develop renewable energy. Farm Bureau also identified five other areas of importance for USDA programs in the bill. This includes programs that promote conservation; strengthen rural communities; enhance and improve food safety and protection; and promote animal health; in addition to research priorities. The House has already passed a fiscal 2012 agriculture appropriations bill.