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Labor Dept. Targets the Family Farm

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

 was seven when my Dad put me on the seat of an Oliver 77 tractor and sent me to the field to rake hay by myself.  My Dad said he was about the same age when his father first assigned him to a pair of horses and a mower to cut hay on his own.  My mom was just five when her dad took her to the barn to hand milk cows.  When Claudia and I had our own four children, they all helped out on our dairy farm at pretty young ages, too.

To those unfamiliar with life on a farm, this might seem inappropriate, dangerous, or even abusive.  It’s not.  It is a way of life that has existed for as long as there have been farms and families.  In many cases it was necessary to support the survival of the family.  That was the case for my parents who were farm kids during the Great Depression.  Family work on a farm or ranch is also a way of life that instills values and principles that seem to be increasingly more difficult to pass from one generation to the next in today’s America. 

Yes, sometimes the work is dangerous and accidents do happen.  They can be serious, even fatal.  But, the rewards of the culture of the family farm have long been believed to far outweigh the risks, and government historically left parenting and farm family life alone.  That’s about to change.

The Obama Administration is proposing to use the force of federal law to usurp the judgment of farm parents and replace it with government regulations.  Led by big labor, union advocate Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor, the Administration is proposing a sweeping set of new rules that would do the following:


  • Prohibit children under 16 who are being paid from operating most power-driven equipment, including tractors and combines. Some student-learners would be exempted from the ban on operating tractors and other farm implements, but only if the equipment has rollover protection and seat belts.
  • Bar those under 18 from working at grain elevators, silos, feedlots and livestock auctions and from transporting raw farm materials.
  • Prevent youths 15 and younger from cultivating, curing and harvesting tobacco to prevent exposure to green tobacco sickness, which is caused by exposure to wet tobacco plants.
  • Prohibit youths from using electronic devices such as cellphones while operating power-driven equipment.

Solis believes that some farm work is "too hazardous for children to be engaged in."  How she knows this is anyone’s guess since she apparently has never lived or worked on a farm, nor do we find any evidence that she has children of her own. 

Solis’s parents were both labor union members and activists.  She is a life-long government employee and proponent of “environmental justice.”  As Labor Secretary she has been a chief operative enacting Big Labor’s agenda by the Obama Administration. 

The Labor Department says the proposed regulations would not apply to children working on farms owned by their parents, but the new regulations would prevent youngsters from doing some jobs for pay at the farms of neighbors and relatives – a tradition as old as our nation.  It would also prevent scores of farm kids from getting summer or part-time jobs which historically have aided family incomes and helped a send countless numbers to college. 

But, the biggest problem with Solis’s proposal is that she’s sticking government’s nose squarely where it doesn’t belong.   And, as is always the case, once government’s nose is under the tent, you can bet that more regulation and control is right around the corner. 

America began as a nation of farmers, and throughout our history the family farm has embodied the best of our national culture and family life.  There is no big movement in America to adopt these new regulations; there’s been no vote in Congress.  The Obama Administration is doing this just because they can; to grab more power for the government; to exert ever more control over our lives.  And, they are doing it because as the “enlightened Central Planners” they believe that they are smarter than all the rest of us – including parents of farm children.  They are wrong.  

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