Proposed federal ag child labor regulations overreaching

January 3, 2012

John Salisbury

OPINION By JOHN SALISBURY

Mercy, Mercy! Please deliver us from these nanny-state unregulated regulators who have set their sights on agriculture child labor laws.

If you have chanced upon my columns in the Avila Community News, Cal Coast News, or at our blog inthevines.com, you know that I have been lamenting the lack of work ethic in our youths and young adults. Well, here comes another codling work-ethic killer. The Department of Labor (DOL) has issued a set of proposed regulations that all but keeps kids from working on farms to include those owned by extended farm families. Aimed at migrant labor but traps all.

Among some of the proposed new rules, with more pending, would include;

–    Operation of Ag tractors – Prohibit workers under 16 to operate or assist  in the operation of tractors to include tending, setting up, adjusting, moving, cleaning, oiling or riding as a passenger or helper. This includes the operation of power-driven equipment by any power source (animal driven also) other than human hand or foot power (i.e. forklifts, lawn and garden tractors, milking equipment, ATVs. etc.). Guess we have to go back to 16th century technology.

–    Prohibit hired farm workers under 16 from the cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco (huge in the South), entering GPS settings on any moving equipment, detasseling corn (big deal in the Mid-West), or be on a ladder more than 6 feet (convert to all dwarf orchards?). No longer exempt student learners who have received equipment operating certificates from Ag. Extension Services. Instead they will have to enroll in a 90 hour systematic school instruction above the 8th grade level (translation equal more government jobs).

–     A young man or woman under 18 cannot work for companies that store, market or transport farm-product raw materials. That would include grain elevators, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and auctions. Those under 16 could not work around any breeding stock to include sows, cows, sheep, and horses with their newborns. This would probably include working during breeding, branding, castrating, herding by horseback, vaccinating, and most other common animal husbandry chores like just catching poultry. So is this the end of the FFA & 4-H projects and county fair auctions many of which also involve young city kids?

–    Prohibits for any under 16 to work on any farm construction, scaffolds, roofing, and handling any ag chemicals no matter how benign (to include organic).

–     Exception would be farm kids working directly with their parents. They would not be exempt if they worked for a family corporation, partnership, or LLC that has an uncle, aunt, cousin, grandparent or a non-family partner involved which would eliminate 95 percent of all farms. Also, unpaid child labor would be exempted possibly which would really make no sense if the child’s welfare is a factor.

Where do I start? Maybe my own experience will show what is common on a family farm. We, to include most my school buddies and relatives, started working summers at least by the 5th grade (10 years old) at 85 cents an hour and a few years later we even worked during Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter vacations. From these jobs, we paid for our entertainment, cars (hot rods in the late 50’s), and most of us paid for our own college education and gained an unparalleled work ethic. My dad always said “I can pay for your education anywhere you want to go but you will appreciate it much more if you pay for it yourself.”

I got my driver’s license at 14 and was driving an old dump truck on the dangerous two lane levee roads in the Sacramento Delta (river on one side and pear orchards on the other 25 feet below) delivering sugar beets and grain to the receiving sites. I drove tractor full time mowing, disking, cultivating, hauling pears, etc. in the summers starting at 11 and sprayed our pears at 14 with a caterpillar tractor.

Later, still under 16, I moved sprinkler pipe and hand loaded full pear and tomato lug boxes in the fields. When lug boxes were replaced by half-ton bins, I hauled them out of the fields by tractor and then loaded onto trucks with a forklift. We also did dozens of other normal farm chores. I am not looking for a medal or pity for this because where I come from this was business as usual and I profited from it in so many ways. This is what we do growing up on a farm and it is expected and accepted because the many generations before us did it also with much less sophisticated and inherently much more dangerous equipment and we all survived – so no big deal.

My kids also worked from an early age in our agri-business operation (heck, my daughter is still at it). I already have my 9 year old grandson, Drake, helping me in the vineyard and it is a very special bonding time for the both of us. He drives the ATV Mule and hops off and helps me pick up grow tubes, big rocks, trash, prunings, etc. He has started his own garden at his home completely on his own initiative. He also has a good feel for running a bulldozer. He might not be our 8th generation California farmer but by God he, and the other three, will know the value of work by the time they are out of college.

Because we are structured as a family LLC (Salisbury Vineyards), these rules may try to prevent that from happening but rules or no rules, they will work on the farm.

I guess the DOL thinks that we farmers can’t be trusted to properly train our kids and non-family kids to do the jobs safely. They have to think they know better, in their tiny cubicles over there in Washington, and need to step in and protect our kids from us ignorant, bib overalled, uncaring hayseeds and stifle work ethics, life long skills and accomplishment to boot. So who do we replace this large population of farm workers with – union workers or worse yet more illegal immigrants? Is that the idea here? Who is going to enforce this in the field (again more government jobs)?

Farming is not just a way to make a living but a lifestyle that has been passed down through many generations. Over half of the present day farmers are elderly and about to retire or give up major responsibilities (most of us expect to die with our boots on). We have always needed to start the next generations early on and train them to work safely and with responsibility.

When they are all-knowing teenagers, forget about it because the chance to instill caution, safety, responsibility, work ethic and a desire to be farmers has passed. These proposed regulations will definitely hinder interest in agriculture as a possible and desperately needed career choice for our youths. Sure, there have been serious accidents in agriculture and there are cracks in the system, but you don’t have to treat the safety problem with a sledgehammer and draconian age restrictions that are contrary to a historic lifestyle.

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy”.  Ernest Benn

John is a 6th generation California farmer whose family has been continuously farmed in California for 160 years starting in the Sacramento Delta in 1850. John now concentrates on farming 45 acres of wine grapes in the Avila Valley and Paso Robles producing Salisbury Vineyard wines.


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14 Comments

  1. SewerHeightsRez says:

    NEWS FLASH: You Do Not Live In The World You Were Born Into.

    It sounds like you are struggling to comes to terms with that, in addition to leveraging beyond your scale. Perhaps you should consider selling while you still have something to sell and before you go completely off the deep end dealing with the world as it is.

    (-8) 20 Total Votes - 6 up - 14 down
  2. danika says:

    Said it before, will say it again: put the 2 words “child” and “safety” in a proposal and it will pass every time. The true intent here is not to protect the kids, I am absolutely certain of that because it never is.

    I grew up working on our farm. I wouldn’t trade those “hands-on” life experiences for anything. Getting up with the chickens to milk the cows; learning to drive the tractor to till the fields; harvesting your crops for sell or self use. It really doesn’t get any better than that: school of family farming.

    (14) 16 Total Votes - 15 up - 1 down
  3. SewerHeightsRez says:

    Dude, you don’t grow food, you grow wine grapes, i.e., an intoxicant so don’t go getting all “farmer under assault…food from foreigners” on us. Ok? Yes, you are over regulated, welcome to the wonderful world of business ownership. Life is tough, get a f*ckin’ helmet. Your sh*t is getting old about “illegals”, “nanny state”, “lazy yoof”, etc. ad nauseum. The world is one continuous, huge disappointment after another for you. We get that. And for the love of God, stop with the endless bloviating about your idyllic, heroic, I-was-so-incredible youth stories. How is possible you don’t know this?

    (-17) 33 Total Votes - 8 up - 25 down
    • mkaney says:

      He’s merely trying to defend his rights and the rights of his children. So he should just passively let all these laws IN ADDITION to what you concede is already over regulation? He’s obviously going to try and sell it in a way that people are going to buy, so he focused on the farmer angle. In truth the same thing occurs in other industries, but if he didn’t focus on farming then people would shoot him down for putting children at risk of industrial accidents. You obviously practice the some vitriol you’re preaching against.

      (10) 14 Total Votes - 12 up - 2 down
    • johnthefarmer says:

      Hi, SewerHeightsRez (which tells me a lot): My family has grown nothing but fruits and vegetables and still do. Winegrapes are just an addition to a long list along with an organic vegetable operation locally soon. It is a fact that we need a heck of lot more food soon to feed the two billion more mouths coming and over regulations are not helping. In fact, with upcoming regs and because of the lousy economic climate we are considering downsizing considerably and shedding debt thereby leaving room for you to contribute to the food supply. If I wasn’t a cock-eyed optimist, then I wouldn’t be a farmer – no gloom and doom here.

      I am not “blovating” my past, just telling it like it happened for me and many others plus several who have shared their farm working experiences on Cal Coast News as examples. No medals needed – it is what it is for us. As for doing any articles on ag, if someone doesn’t lay it out then our side doesn’t get heard. Maybe you are right that it is time for me to step aside and let someone else stick their neck out in public for you and your ilk to attack anonymously.

      (9) 19 Total Votes - 14 up - 5 down
    • The Gimlet Eye says:

      Actually, SewerHeightsRez, it’s “ad nauseam.”

      (6) 6 Total Votes - 6 up - 0 down
  4. mkaney says:

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think restrictions on child labor ought to be lowered to the age of 12 or done away with altogether. I realize that is going to be an extremely unpopular statement, but I don’t believe in a one sized fits all rule, and I think that in some cases it prevents families from breaking free from poverty. They should have a choice, especially because in REALITY many of those kids have little success in school and then they wind up with no skills, still no real education, and no work ethic.

    (11) 17 Total Votes - 14 up - 3 down
  5. mrcyberdoc says:

    So much for the family owned farm. Looks like the “illegal alien” union has their foot in the door. Just another case of the government and their long arm of the law. Family owned farms have been struggling for decades. The only way our government supports them is by giving money away NOT to grow crops. Go figure!

    (16) 26 Total Votes - 21 up - 5 down
    • mkaney says:

      Just quit with the illegal alien garbage already, PLEASE. Most of these people are willing to work harder than most of the people that complain about them. I realize that most racists are not aware of their racism, but here’s a hint.. if you can find a connection to illegal aliens in any discussion which did not originally include them, there’s your sign.

      (-7) 19 Total Votes - 6 up - 13 down
    • zaphod says:

      [Looks like the “illegal alien” union has their foot in the door. Just another case of the government and their long arm of the law]

      Does this statement make any sense to anyone?? we can hate on illegals all we want we can hate on the unions all we want we can even hate on federal regulators all we want.
      Help me out here farmer John , whats it going to be?

      (-8) 12 Total Votes - 2 up - 10 down
      • johnthefarmer says:

        Hi, zaphod: Thanks for your comment. It is very clear where I stand on the illegal immigration situation just by looking up the last opinion pieces above (the commonsense guest worker program and the piece on card checks, etc,). I also have no problem with unions because I am too small for them to bother with plus they are having a tough time just keeping the ag contracts they have and are becoming a non-factor.

        Now regulators who have to justify their jobs and create a problem that is not really there and bust up historic working opportunities and lifestyles for young people in agriculture (especially my family), then I have a problem. If this is such a serious national child labor safety problem, then run it through the legal system and make laws. But don’t just be able to make a regulation at your whim without full representation from those who are directly affected.

        The DOL claim they have over 10,000 responses they are working through but it doesn’t matter if they have the power to make up any regulation without oversite as required with a proposed law. Regulators are taking too much power away from the law makers who have gladly passed on their responsibilities and the heat (“Not my fault those damn regulators pass these rules!”).

        We farmer are assaulted from so many anti-ag groups that it will be a sad day when we have to get most of our food from foreign countries – some not so friendly. In only 40 years, we are going have another 2 billion people to feed and need to double our food supply in the meantime. Taking away our farm youth from on-the- job training at an early age is not going to help fill the void. Hopefully, this helps you out.

        (18) 18 Total Votes - 18 up - 0 down
        • The Gimlet Eye says:

          johnthefarmer, well said. That’s why I say that our country is no longer a republic. So, if it’s not a republic, then what is it? It must be a dictatorship!

          The bureaucrats have gotten very clever. They bypass the legislature and used regulators, prosecutors, and other unelected bureaucrats to run the government and make the regulations which govern our lives. So, if you don’t like it, there’s nothing that you can do about it! And that’s your government!

          A few good books which chronicle this absurdity and tyranny:

          Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt

          Economics On Trial: Lies, Myths, and Realities, by Mark Skousen

          The Revolution: A Manifesto, by Ron Paul

          The Tyranny of Good Intentions, by Paul Craig Roberts and Lawrence M. Stratton

          Parliament of Whores, by P.J. O’Rourke

          (5) 7 Total Votes - 6 up - 1 down
      • The Gimlet Eye says:

        What do you put the preposition “on” after the verb hate? The verb “hate” works very well on its own, believe me!

        (4) 4 Total Votes - 4 up - 0 down
        • The Gimlet Eye says:

          Sorry, WHY do you put the preposition “on” after the verb hate? The verb “hate” works very well on its own, believe me!

          (4) 4 Total Votes - 4 up - 0 down

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