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May 01, 2012 9:57 am

EDITORIAL: Families working together make farms thrive

Written by Tessa Schweigert

Department of Labor right to withdraw heavy-handed regulation proposals

Many growing up in Wyoming awake early to feed livestock, spend their first driving years behind a tractor wheel and faithfully set water to irrigate precious crops in our arid land.
It’s not just a summer or after-school job. It’s a way of life.

That’s why we’re glad the Obama administration backed off proposed child labor laws that threatened to upheave the family-farming model so intrinsic to rural living.
The U.S. Department of Labor proposed to ban children younger than 16 from using power-driven farm equipment — including tractors — and prevent those under 18 from working in grain silos, feed lots or stockyards. The rules were aimed at protecting children, who are four times more likely to be killed while performing farm work than those in all other industries combined, according to the Associated Press.
Children would have been allowed to work on their parents’ farms. But what about many young farmhands, 4-H participants and FFA members who work for their grandparents, uncles, cousins and neighbors?
The overbearing proposal could have stifled small agriculture operations and prevented kids from learning valuable life skills on a farm or ranch.
From the first homesteaders to now, the Powell Valley has cultivated generations of farming families. We want to see that tradition continue without heavy-handed government restrictions.
“The federal government has no place telling families how they can raise their children on the farm,” said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., in a statement Friday.
Under mounting pressure from thousands of Americans, the Labor Department scrapped the plan late Thursday.
Farm safety is a continuing concern, and we hope farmers and ranchers take necessary precautions to ensure all workers are safe — no matter their age.
On Thursday, the Departments of Labor and Agriculture vowed to work with rural stakeholders, including FFA and 4-H, to develop education to help promote safer agricultural working places.
Still, it’s best for children and teens to learn the importance of agricultural safety while on a farm or ranch. How could you expect teenagers to know how to safely farm if they had never experienced farming firsthand?
Early years on the farm are key to developing future farmers.
Family farms and ranches already face plenty of challenges day to day. Lawmakers need to invest in budding farmers and ranchers rather than trying to stifle them. After all, today’s youth will teach vital agricultural traditions to future generations.

 

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