New regulations as proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor would limit the opportunity for kids under the age of 16 to work on the nation’s farms.
Under the proposal, children working for their parents on a farm can do any chores at any age, but the department is interpreting that provision fairly narrowly. The worry is that it might jeopardize the ability of brothers and sisters or cousins who jointly operate a farm through a business partnership to have any of their children work for it.
The proposed regulation has the attention of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) and the Ohio Association of Agricultural Educators (OAAE), which recently submitted joint comments to the U.S. Department of Labor to express concerns.
Both organizations strongly believe the rule, as written, would result in an effective total ban on youth employment on farms, and that it will significantly narrow the “family” exemptions as understood by the agriculture industry for decades.
“The new rule would change the “family” exemption to a “parental” exemption, which falls out of line with the practical state of modern farm operations,” the organizations submitted jointly.
Agricultural educators are concerned about modifications to current exemptions that allow for training and educating young people who want to gain practical experiences on farms and in agribusiness. A specific concern is that the FFA’s Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) program could suffer if the rule is passed. The integral program ties together what is learned in the classroom to what agricultural educations students do at home.
“(SAE’s) give students the opportunity to make decisions, develop work ethic, manage and balance finance, establish contracts and agreements, develop technical skills, earn and save money, operate machinery, produce healthy food, connect with industry, gain employment, earn educational credits and strive towards specific awards and achievements,” read the statement. “Limiting their ability with SAEs reduces students’ chances of earning State or American FFA Degrees, which are a key mark of success and a reward for these young people.” Ohio’s agriculture educators also believe it would be much more difficult to provide meaningful experimental learning if such opportunities are severely limited.
“This rule seems to miss the mark if its aim is to focus on youth safety in relation to American agriculture,” OFBF and OAAE stated. “We continue to support appropriate safety regulations, however, this rule as written, will prove to be more effective as an outright ban on youth employment on farms rather than a safeguard for youth. We encourage the Department of Labor to seriously reconsider this measure or to work closely with the agricultural community to develop more meaningful standards.”
The organizations also cited concern for Ohio’s Amish community should the rule pass. Many members of the Amish community rely on family and youth employment to provide necessary labor for their farms and agricultural businesses.