Proposed farm work rules worry families

April 26, 2012 4:22:44 PM PDT
New Labor Department rules could make it tougher for kids to work on farms. The rules are raising some big concerns for family-run farms and kids who raise animals for shows like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

American farmers hire hundreds of thousands of young people over the summer to help work the fields and bring in crops. Under the new rules, that annual tradition could be in jeopardy.

The animals shown at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo are raised by young people. The new rules for farm labor have some worried that young people may no longer be able to show livestock.

"They're going to be working," said former agriculture teacher Gerald Young. "They have an animal. They have a project. They have jobs to do, chores to do. I mean, it's a job. They get a reward in the end."

Young is not the only one concerned. State Senator Glenn Hegar of Katy grew up on a farm and his kids are there now.

"These potential rules would impact anything and everything," he said.

The US Department of Labor is proposing a new set of guidelines for young farm workers. They include forbidding farm workers under 16 from operating almost all power drive equipment. No one under 18 can work in the storing, marketing and transportation of farm product raw materials. Those under 18 would not be able to work in grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges, and live stock auctions.

Hegar said, "I think we all want to make sure that our children, our youth, are safe. We all fundamentally agree with that. But we also want to have common sense and reasonableness."

The Department of Labor says the intent is to protect young workers, not keep kids from working on family farms. An agency spokesperson told us young people would not be prevented from working on a family farm that is owned or operated by a parent or family member.

The spokesperson went on to say the new rules would not impact showing animals. As long as the young person is not employed by a farm owner, he or she may care for livestock raised for agricultural shows.

But farmers who hire young people say they will have to make changes to the jobs 16 to 18 year olds currently perform.

"I think you would have to make a tremendous amount of changes all the way through the agricultural structure," said farmer Raymond Dollins.

But the rules may not take effect. Congressman Ted Poe posted on Twitter late Thursday afternoon that the Department of Labor is reportedly withdrawing the proposed rules on youth agriculture labor. Poe says this is good news for family farms.

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