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Karl Guenther column: ag labor questions


It does appear as though 4-h youngsters will be allowed to work with their animals leading up to county fair, and they’ll be permitted to perform a variety of chores around the farm.  Just like it’s always been.  It was a rather close call though. 

The U.S. Department of Labor is just one governmental agency seeking, apparently, to further justify its existence, reaching far out of bounds. There are, of course labor laws that apply to various elements of agriculture, and that’s as it should be. But, a little less than a year ago, the department of labor seemed determined to force-fit the round peg that is agriculture, into the square hole that encompasses “labor” as we more commonly see it.  It appeared the folks at labor had equated preteen and teenager farm kids with urban youngsters not permitted to work in factories and machine shops.

Various farm organizations, and a bumper crop of farming individuals expressed their collective dismay; Senator Debbie Stabenow, the junior senator from Michigan who chairs the senate agriculture committee in Washington weighed in with what i see as a masterpiece of understatement.  She said, in part, “very concerned that they do not understand how a family farm works.”  In February, Debbie started backtracking, declaring intent to take another look at the “parental exemption” rule, which would have permitted farm kids to work only if their parents owned the farm.  in march, that whole silly notion came unglued when a group of Midwest congressmen, including Upton, Huizenga, Benishek, Walberg, Miller, and Camp, introduced legislation that was a direct attack on the aforementioned silly notion, to prohibit labor secretary Hilda Solis from finalizing or enforcing the proposed new child labor regulations.

There is consensus on what that new regulation would have done.  for example, youngsters could no longer milk cows, feed cattle, stack hay bales higher than six feet, pick fruit from ladders more than six feet tall, operate basic farm equipment, or raise 4-h animals.

Michigan farm bureau’s Ryan Findlay, in a news release, listed a potential restriction that is just too funny to overlook.  His masterpiece of understatement reads, “Making it illegal for a 15-year-old to carry a flashlight or use an electric screwdriver . . . . Was going too far.”

The department of labor is well-advised to leave farm regulations to the department of agriculture, which is regularly contacted and routinely briefed on just how things are, down on the farm.

Karl Guenther is a retired Kalamazoo farm broadcaster and can be reached at khguenther@att.net.  He is a member of Michigan farm bureau and an emeritus member of the national association of farm broadcasting.