Feds Attack Family Farms. . . Again
The main focus of the new regulations proposed last year was on the operation of farm equipment. The DOT was trying to mandate that anyone operating a piece of mechanized farm equipment be subject to the same rules that apply to drivers of semi-tractor trailers. These changes would have essentially blocked all young people who work on family farms from operating even the smallest tractor or truck, unless those people would be able to pass the stringent tests and maintain the detailed logs that are required of truckers.
These rules would also open the door for the potential unionization of all farm workers in America. Even family farm workers.
During the comment period for the proposal, the outcry from the farming communities seemed to bring clarity to the situation. However, the DOT and Labor Departments continued churning in the background, writing new and different rules that would soon surface. In August the new rules were posted. They proposed barring anyone under the age of 16 from performing dangerous jobs, like driving tractors, handling pesticides and even branding cattle. A december 1st deadline for public comments was set and the public responded with more than 18,000 comments.
After December 1, 2011, a bi-partisan group of 28 Senators and 70 members of the House sent a letter to the Secretary of Labor, complaining about the new rules and asking that they be withdrawn until such time as the Labor Dept can prove the rules will significantly improve the safety of youth workers while having no significant economic impact on the farms.
“After having additional time to review the Proposed Rule and compare the proposed changes to existing statutory law, regulations, and the Department’s existing interpretive documents, we believe initial concerns were well-founded. As a result of these concerns, we request the Department withdraw the Proposed Rule in its entirety,” the Senators state in a letter to Secretary Solis. “It is puzzling why the Department would suddenly propose changes to existing regulations, particularly considering the advancements in farm equipment and adoption of technologies that have improved operator safety in the last 35 years.”The note cited the fact that the Labor Secretary was using statistics from 13 years ago. This outdated information regarding accidents in rural settings was flawed and did not reflect the latest safety innovations that have come to the farming world.
The statement from the group said “until recently, farms jointly owned and operated by multiple family members had discretion over the responsibilities they gave their children on the farm. But the proposed rule change would do away with that freedom and extend the parental exemption to farms owned solely by a parent. It is common in rural America for siblings to jointly own and operate farms and for extended family and neighbors to participate in agriculture production. With this rule change, the government is proposing to tell farmers and ranchers: We know what’s best for your children, and what they should and should not be doing.”
Despite the 18,000 comments and Congressional opposition, the regulations appear to be moving ahead as Solis has planned. Local farm communities are quite concerned that this. Here is one of the dozens of local news stories highlighting the problems this will create:
Yesterday, Secretary Solis testified before a Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, and Pensions. Ms. Solis’ comments on the restrictions on family farms were brief, only stating that her department was open to hearing comments on the new regulations.
It should also be noted that today is the anniversary of the death of State Farming in the former Soviet Union.
On this day back in 1989, the USSR’s Communist party leader Mikhail Gorbachev announced that Central Farming was not working. This was underscored by the fact that his country was forced to import tons of staples like wheat and meat. Mr. Gorbachev sounded like a Free Market Capitalist when he told the Soviets:
“The essence of economic change in the countryside should be in granting farmers broad opportunities for displaying independence, enterprise, and initiative.”Farmers would be granted the opportunity to be independent, enterprising and succeed or fail based on their own initiative. An interesting concept.