Wis. Farm Bureau, FFA Foundation: Oppose drastic changes to youth farm labor rules

Contact: Karen Gefvert, Director of Governmental Relations, 608.828.5713

Casey Langan, Executive Director of Public Relations, 608.828.5711

Nicole Nelson, Executive Director of Wis. FFA Foundation 608.576.8111

MADISON – The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation and the Wisconsin FFA Foundation oppose proposed regulations from the U.S. Department of Labor that would greatly limit the ability of youth to work on farms.

“These changes threaten to dramatically change the face of the family farm,” said Bill Bruins, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President.

The regulations would change existing ‘hazardous occupation’ categories and prohibit youth from performing certain tasks unless they are working solely under the control of their parent or guardian.

“The proposal exhibits a lack of acknowledgement of the many benefits and merits of youth working in agriculture,” said Karen Gefvert, Farm Bureau’s Director of Governmental Relations. “From actual hands-on learning, many youth develop advanced skills that lead to them becoming productive and engaged members of society.”

“These proposed rules are a clear example of agency overreach and exhibit a lack of understanding for enhanced safety practices and equipment upgrades found in modern day agriculture,” Gefvert added. “We also note that the Department of Labor’s narrow definition of a family farm does not recognize multi-family partnerships and other modern farm business structures. Their omission would stop youth from working on farms that belong to their grandparents or any farm where there parent is not the sole owner or operator.”

The Wisconsin FFA Foundation shares concerns with the Farm Bureau as to how the proposed changes could effectively eliminate ‘supervised agricultural experiences’ that thousands of Wisconsin youth participate in annually through FFA projects.

As a result, both the Wisconsin Farm Bureau and Wisconsin FFA Foundation will be sending official comments to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Baring any further extensions, all comments are due by December 1. Both organizations encourage farmers and parents to submit their own comments.”

“We need individuals and organizations to speak up and let regulators know that parents and farmers are best suited to teach youth how to safely and responsibly work on farms. Comments from parents who want their children to have safe, on-farm work experiences would be extremely persuasive in bringing balance to this discussion,” said Nicole Nelson, Executive Director of the Wisconsin FFA Foundation.

A link to make online comments to the Department of Labor can be found at the Wisconsin Farm Bureau’s website, wfbf.com .

The changes are reportedly being proposed due to safety concerns and to more closely align a long-standing separation between youth labor standards in agriculture and non-agriculture.

The newly defined hazardous occupations include operating tractors or other power-driven equipment such as lawn mowers or stationary equipment such as hoists. The proposed regulations would also prohibit work with non-castrated animals older than six months, sows with suckling pigs or a cow with a newborn calf. An additional prohibition will be with handling animals in a situation in which the animal’s behavior may be unpredictable, such as with giving vaccinations, dehorning or breeding.

If the regulations are adopted, children under 16 will no longer be allowed to work inside any fruit, forage or grain storage silo or bin. The planting, cultivating and harvesting of tobacco would also be prohibited.

“The proposal also aims to end working at heights that are over 6 feet above another elevation,” Gefvert added. “This restriction is both unreasonable and unfounded. What does this mean for working in hay lofts, ladders and simple tasks such as changing a light bulb or checking fill levels in bins?”

In addition to the restrictions on farm, individuals under age 18 will not be allowed to work in jobs that come into contact with farm-product raw materials. Those jobs include working at grain elevators, stockyards and livestock auctions unless the work is solely in an office and does not involve handling of farm products.

“We support the rights of parents to have discretion when it comes to the capabilities and limitations of their child’s activities on farms,” Gefvert said. “These proposals will not only deny invaluable real world experiences for youth interested in agriculture, but they also set up one more barrier to a labor-intensive industry that struggles to attract a trained workforce.”