Is the Family Farm About to be Outlawed by New Labor Regulations?

The family farm is in jeopardy. New Department of Labor (DOL) regulations could make it more expensive for family farms to survive. Traditionally, farms were productive and efficient because the entire family worked from before the time sun rose to when it set. As a result, the United States became the bread basket of the world, producing more food than it could consume.

The total number of farms in the United States in 2010 is estimated to be 2.2 million and most of them are family owned. Not all farms are created equal:

The “Corporate” farms account for only 3% of U.S. farms and 90% of those are family owned. However, the term “family farm” does not necessarily equate with “small farm”; nor does a “corporate farm” necessarily mean a large-scale operation owned and operated by a multi-national corporation. Many of the country’s largest agricultural enterprises are family owned. Likewise, many farm families have formed modest-sized corporations to take advantage of legal and accounting benefits of that type of business enterprise.

DOL Secretary Hilda Solis has proposed new rules that would restrict family farm operations by prohibiting anyone under the age of 18 from being near certain age animals without adult supervision. Many family farms hire young people from the local community. Their parents want them to learn farming skills. The goal for many families is to keep farms in the family.

The new regulations world include working with livestock such as vaccinating and hoof trimming, and handling most animals more than six months old, which could limit participation in 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) activities and restrict their youth farm safety classes.

There are also new restrictions on operating farm machinery over 20 horsepower; completing tasks at elevations over six feet high; and working at stockyards and grain and feed facilities. The language of the proposed rules is so specific it would even ban youth from operating a battery powered screwdriver or a pressurized garden hose.

In most states, a 16-year-old can get a license to drive an automobile, own a gun, skate board, ride a motorcycle, and mountain climb. These are all dangerous activities. Will these be regulated next?

If these regulations go into effect, a number of things could happen. First, long-held family farms might have to be sold, possibility to foreign interests. Second, costs will go up as more non-family labor will have to be hired at a higher price. Third, illegal aliens will have to make up the short fall in labor pools. Fourth, if finding workers becomes difficult, farms may have to be sold off for other uses or abandoned. Fifth, the need to hire more bureaucrats to police our nation’s families and farms. Sixth, the possibility that the definition of “farm” will be expanded to include families that grow their own food, use power tools, and ride sit-down mowers.

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