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Teaching Kids the Value of Hard Work and Work Ethic Is On The Line

Posted on April 18, 2012 at 3:00 PM by Iowa Corn

My brother Zach and I.
All of my siblings and I had the “opportunity” to work on our family farm.  As young children, we had simple jobs such as helping mow the lawn, hoe the garden or bottle feed baby calves.  When we were older, we worked more closely with animals, operated the skid steer and drove tractors.  This was a gradual procession and we weren’t allowed to do jobs that might be too dangerous without learning how to do them from our parents, grandparents or others on our farm, first.
When we were very young, we often had young men help out on our farm.  They helped my dad with walking beans, driving tractors, putting up straw, and anything else on our farm. Two of those young men, Joe and Gary, became important parts of our family.  I remember Gary dragging his prom date out in the field to show my dad what they looked like all dressed up and Joe and his family now own a small acreage just down the road from my parent’s house.   
Last fall, the U.S. Labor Department (DOL) proposed updates to child agriculture labor regulations.  These new rules prohibit any child from working with animals and from working for a L.L.C. or any type of legal family farming entity.  It would also prohibit farm workers under the age of 16 from operating almost all power-driven equipment.  In addition, it would prohibit children from working with most large animals.  This would have meant that my siblings and I wouldn’t have been allowed to work on our family farm or participate in 4-H livestock shows until we were 16.
After a comment period last fall, the DOL announced they would repurpose a portion of the child labor law in agriculture and the “parental exemption”.  According to the DOL, this exemption would allow children of any age to be employed by their parent, or a person standing in place of a parent, to perform any job on a farm owned or operated by their parent or such person standing in place of a parent.
Joe's son showing a steer at our county 4-H show.
While this exemption may be a step in the right direction for farm families, it would still mean that individuals who want to work on a neighbor’s farm (such as Joe and Gary) wouldn’t be allowed to perform most tasks.
When I asked Joe what he thought of the proposed DOL rule, he said “Without working for your dad and a few others walking beans and putting up hay and straw, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now.”  Joe now owns and operates an agronomy business in our small town.  

Safety is the top of mind for farmers; the kids that may work on their farm are their kids or their friends and neighbor’s kids.   Farmers make sure they are providing a safe environment.  In fact, according to the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety from 1998-2009 there was a 60% drop in the rate of non-fatal childhood injuries.  While this number is great, we can still improve.  And instead of proposing more regulations on family farmers the DOL would be better off to help family farmers implement programs to increase safety!
There may have been many times that my siblings and I would have wished we didn’t have the "opportunity” to work on the farm, but I think today we would say that performing various chores taught us about life, hard work, and what it means to start a job and finish it – no matter what time of day it is or what the weather might be.
We need to praise and encourage kids who want to work on farms and learn more about agriculture, because without young guys like Joe and my brother Zach (who is now farming with my Dad) we would be very hungry in the future. 
For more information on the proposed DOL rule:
Claire Masker grew up on a family farm in Southwest Iowa and is currently the communications manger for Iowa Corn.


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