Candice Miller for Congress, Michigan

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Trust family farmers, not government bureaucrats

by Candice Miller on December 14, 2011

Rep. Candice Miller
The Lapeer County Press
Editor’s note: The following guest editorial was written by U.S. Rep. Candice Miller. She was a guest speaker Monday at an Economic Club of Lapeer County luncheon in Dryden.
Often-times, well intentioned people over-react without recognition of the consequences of their actions. Unfortunately, we only need to look at the Ag Youth Labor Regulations being proposed by the Department of Labor (DOL) for a first-hand look at what happens when idealistic conflicts with reality.
Family farms are an important part of our heritage and critical to produce the abundant food our nation needs. Farmers learn technical skills and practical knowledge as young people helping out on the farms of their family and neighbors. They not only gain valuable experience, but develop character and learn the importance of a strong work ethic. Apparently, the DOL believes it knows better and cares more deeply for the children of family farmers and should have jurisdiction to decide what is and isn’t appropriate for their children. Farms and families go hand-in-hand, and prohibiting members of the family from assisting with farm activity proves that government regulation has gone too far.
If enacted, these proposed new rules would in essence prohibit teenagers from gaining practical agricultural work experience. While I think we all understand the fact that agriculture can be dangerous at times and that safety must remain a priority, we should not limit our ability to raise the next generation of farmers and ranchers. I trust that parents, grandparents and other family members care far more deeply about the safety of their own children than government bureaucrats and know what are and aren’t acceptable and safe job roles for their teenage children.
Future farmers often learn how to drive and operate small tractors around the farm under the supervision of trusted adults. They use electronic communications devices, such as cell phones or CB radios, to coordinate with other employees or to guide a wagon hitch onto a tractor, not to text their friends. The new changes would seriously impact how young Americans learn the skills it takes carry on the legacy of their family farm so that they can help to provide a wholesome and affordable food supply into the future.
Furthermore, this new proposal would have other negative consequences. The potential prohibition of youth harvesting fruits and vegetables would prevent young teens from working what are considered traditional summer jobs in rural America. This regulation would create an even tighter supply of agricultural labor at a time when finding needed workers have proven difficult.
I am convinced that farmers take a keen interest in the safety of their farming operations for all workers, regardless of age. While I’m committed to protecting young workers in all industries, I believe these changes go way too far and would unnecessarily drive a wedge between family farmers and their own children.
Given that the comment period fell during the hectic fall harvest season, many family farmers were given insufficient time to comment on a rule that could fundamentally disrupt traditional agriculture practices across the country and cut at the core values of what we respect most about family farms — the family.
I proudly cosigned a letter in October to DOL requesting a 60-day extension of the comment period so that the DOL could hear directly from America’s family farmers. Unfortunately, DOL did not fulfill this request and the comment period for this harmful new rule ended December 1, 2011.
While DOL is in the process of reviewing the comments received before the deadline, I will continue to keep a close eye on this issue and work with my colleagues to ensure that the concerns of family farmers are fully heard before DOL moves forward with this new rule.

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