Opinion by Rep. Cynthia Lummis
Youth Involvement in Agriculture
By U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis
Editor’s note: this column was written prior to the April 26 announcement that the U.S. Department of Labor had withdrawn its proposed rules to restrict youth from working in agriculture. Please see the sidebar for further details.
Like so many of Wyoming’s agriculture producers, I was born into the business of ranching. I was driving tractors as soon as my foot could reach the pedals, gaining confidence and self-esteem by taking on bigger and more complex equipment and responsibility on the family ranch. Anyone who grew up like this knows how neighboring farmers and ranchers help each other; it’s a tradition and way of life passed down through generations.
In yet another example of big government intrusion, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis is threatening to severely restrict youth involvement in agriculture. The proposed work restrictions for 14- and 15-year-olds includes a complete ban on: working with male livestock more than six months old; husbandry practices that “inflict pain” or lead to “unpredictable animal behavior”; branding, breeding, dehorning, vaccinating, castrating, and treating sick animals; herding animals in “confined spaces” or while on horseback; and handling animals with “known dangerous behaviors.” In another typical stroke of Washington genius, bureaucrats are using broad and indefinable terminology to describe livestock such as “dangerous” or “unpredictable.”
The proposal would also limit the use by young people of tractors, other mechanical equipment and ladders over six feet until a new 90-hour classroom requirement has been met. The Department of Labor even had the audacity to attack local agriculture education, labeling it as insufficient and laying the groundwork for standards directed from Washington instead of through time-tested, dedicated, qualified organizations like the 4-H and FFA. Instead of youth being gradually introduced to the safe handling of livestock, young people will “learn” skills from a textbook that cannot be learned by means other than on-the-job training.
These federal rules, proposed under the guise of “protecting” children from farm and ranch work, could not be more out of touch with life in Wyoming. Here’s the reality: we start our education early on ranches precisely to prevent injuries. The knowledge and skill of one generation is passed on to the next and takes years of hands-on experience. Our livelihoods and legacies, not to mention the global demand for a safe food supply, depend on the involvement of our youth and sometimes the paid employment of our neighbors’ kids. After all, we know who trained our neighbors’ kids – their parents and extended families.
That our occupation has hazards doesn’t give Washington a right to tell us how to deal with those hazards. The federal government’s meddling knows no limits, so the American people must place limits on the federal government. That is why Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-MT) and I intend to use Congress’ power of the purse as members of the House Appropriations Committee to stop this rule in its tracks. I joined other like-minded colleagues, many of them farmers and ranchers like me, to get Secretary Solis to back down on a companion proposal that would have narrowed the family farm exemption from their youth employment rules. But the remaining proposal to limit paid work that can be done by 14- and 15-year-olds is equally offensive and has to go. I explained to Secretary Solis, when she testified before my committee, that I owe much of my self-esteem to my work on the ranch from a young age. Farm and ranch work turns youth into confident, capable adults whether they choose to follow in their parents’ footsteps in agriculture or choose some other occupation. Being paid to help a neighbor work cattle or put up hay is tremendous personal validation for a young person. It would be an injustice to deny our youth the opportunities to participate in agriculture that I relied on and benefited from growing up.
U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
DOL withdraws youth restrictions
Washington, D.C. – Late in the day on April 26, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that proposed rules to restrict youth from working in agriculture would be withdrawn by the administration.
The new restrictions would have banned teenagers from certain livestock work and eliminated 4-H and FFA training certifications, limiting vocational agriculture training for youth and impairing the intergenerational transfer of agriculture skills and knowledge.
U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis, a member of the House Appropriations Committee and outspoken opponent of the measure, had been working with U.S. Representative Denny Rehberg (R-MT) to cut off funding for the proposal in the Department of Labor’s annual appropriations bill.
“This proposal was a clear intrusion on the family farm by the government,” said Lummis in response to the announcement. “I’d like to thank the families across the country who took the time to voice their opposition to this proposed government intrusion and firmly drew a line in the sand. This is truly a victory for the family farm and the dedicated, time-tested student organizations like 4-H and FFA that were targeted by this proposal. I will see to it that this proposal, or anything like it moving forward, does not receive one dime from the taxpayer.”