Kansas Farmers and Ranchers' Voices Heard

By Sen. Jerry Moran

Agriculture is a way of life, and today – thanks to your help – that way of life will be easier to preserve for our children and grandchildren.

Kansas farmers and ranchers voiced their concerns about the Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed youth farm labor rule, and DOL withdrew the proposal which would have fundamentally altered the future of agriculture in America. In the announcement, it was made clear that “this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama Administration."

This news speaks to the power of engaged citizens making their voices heard. Without the efforts of individuals like you, the Department would have moved forward with their plans to regulate the relationship between parents and children on the farm. If this precedent had been set, virtually nothing would be off limits when it comes to government intrusion into our lives.

Throughout this process, I shared the concerns of Kansas farmers and ranchers with the DOL. The level of detail and specificity of Labor’s proposed regulation made many of us wonder if those responsible for this rule had ever worked on a farm or ranch. For example, the rule would have prohibited youth under age 16 from participating in many common farm and ranch related tasks like cleaning out stalls with a shovel and wheelbarrow, rounding up cattle, and even operating a battery-operated screwdriver.

The Department also proposed banning youth from working on a farm or ranch jointly owned and operated by multiple family members – evidence of the DOL’s complete lack of understanding of the structure of modern agriculture. And the Department’s proposal would have effectively eliminated successful and critical farm safety programs like those run by cooperative extension, 4-H and FFA. Today, more than 800,000 students participate in formal FAA agricultural education programs each year.

Ask any farmer or rancher about the importance of safety, and they would tell you that safety is their top concern. Local experts should be the ones conducting safety training programs to educate our nation’s young people. And parents and communities should be allowed to look after the best interests of their families and citizens.

It was the Labor Department’s responsibility to ensure a thorough vetting of a proposal with such far-reaching consequences. But from the time the DOL published the proposal in September 2011 – and set the public comment period during the fall harvest season – the Department continually turned a blind eye to the concerns of farmers and ranchers.

Together we were able to make certain your voices were heard. First, we successfully persuaded U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to grant an extension to the comment period. We then launched the grassroots effort with other members of Congress, to invite farmers and ranchers to express their concerns about the rule. Because of our efforts, the DOL announced it would withdraw the parental exemption portion of the rule. Finally, I joined Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) in introducing legislation – the Preserving America’s Family Farm Act – to prevent the DOL from enacting the remaining portion of its controversial proposal.

Our efforts were successful. In total, the DOL received nearly 20,000 comments from Americans just like you – and the Administration agreed to not pursue the regulation further.

This is a tremendous victory for farmers and ranchers across the country, but we still have plenty of work left to do. Our argument throughout this fight was that parents, grandparents, neighbors, local vocational agriculture instructors, and local 4-H and FFA teachers are in a better position to teach our youth how to be safe on the farm or ranch, than a bureaucrat in Washington. Now that we’ve won the argument we must live up to the standard we’ve set.

I am pleased the DOL says it will now work with rural stakeholders – such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, FFA and 4-H – to ensure the educational programs needed to promote safety among youth workers in agriculture are in place. This is exactly what we have been asking for all along, and I know those who know agriculture best look forward to finally being consulted.

In addition to working with the DOL, I will work with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to make certain the family farm remains a safe place to work – and the best place for our youth to learn essential life skills like hard work, personal responsibility and perseverance.

Thank you for coming together to protect and preserve our values for the next generation of American farmers and ranchers.

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