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Public Statements

Preserving America's Family Farms Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. WALBERG. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I want to first thank my colleague from Iowa, Congressman Tom Latham, for introducing this very important legislation. Representative Latham is a long-time advocate for farmers and agribusiness, and his leadership in Congress is greatly appreciated.

According to a report on MLive.com, which is a new site from my home State of Michigan, parts of the country are experiencing the worst drought in more than 20 years. Jim Spink, a sixth-generation farmer from Michigan's Liberty Township, said:

It's going to be one of the years that separates those that are positioned well financially and those that are not.

Unpredictability in the weather and harvest is not a new challenge for American farmers. Quite the contrary, it's a way of life. Farmers work each day under difficult circumstances, growing the food and resources necessary to power this Nation and this world. Often the presence of a son or a daughter working with his or her parents is important to a farm's long-term success.

Federal labor policies recognize the support youth provide to family farms by exempting farmworkers between 14 and 16 years of age from restrictions on agriculture activities. For decades, this exemption has applied to youth working on a farm owned or operated by the parent or an individual standing in place of his or her parent. With farmers facing a tough year with high temperatures and low rainfall, we should continue to support the ability for youth to experience safe employment in American farming. That's why many were shocked when the Obama administration announced new rules that would make it difficult for young people to work on family farms.

Last September, the Department of Labor proposed regulatory changes that would negatively affect youth employment in agriculture, such as narrowing the parental exemption, restricting the rules of farm ownership, and prohibiting the use of certain equipment central to a farm's operation, even for young people who have received safety training through the Federal Services Extension program. The Labor Department even tried to prevent youth from working with non-toxic pesticides available at the local hardware store.

These proposed regulatory shifts fail to reflect the changes in farming that have occurred in recent years. We all want to keep young people safe from harm, especially when they work in an inherently dangerous environment. However, the administration's proposal would deny youth an opportunity to gain hands-on experience that is crucial to a farm's survival.

Throughout our history, farms have been handed down from one generation to the next through the knowledge a future farmer gained from working alongside his or her parents. Public policy should promote this great American tradition, not dismantle it.

Mr. Speaker, across the country, many farmers are struggling. While I recognize the Department has withdrawn its proposal for now, we owe it to these hardworking men and women to remove as much uncertainty as we can, especially the uncertainty caused by flawed government policies. I am proud to support the Preserving America's Family Farms Act, and I urge my colleagues to vote ``yes.''

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. WALBERG. Mr. Speaker, in a point of personal privilege, I would applaud my colleague and friend from Oklahoma for his comments.

The concept of ``trust, but verify'' is carried out here. We trust what has been said by the Department and the administration, but we verify with the action that we are taking today.

It gives me a privilege now to yield 2 minutes of time to a friend from Tennessee (Mr. DesJarlais), a colleague who cares about people and their safety, and especially young people, as a medical doctor.

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Mr. WALBERG. Mr. Speaker, point of personal privilege: a family farm and a family farm sometimes isn't the same. If it's incorporated, it would come under this proposed rule initially, and for that reason we continue to offer this great piece of legislation. And that gives me the privilege to introduce another great farmer.

I yield 1 minute to my colleague, the gentleman from Iowa (Mr. King).

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Mr. WALBERG. Mr. Speaker, I appreciate so much that we've had this time of debate. Again, trust but verify. This is a verifying opportunity. As has been said, the proposed regulation was pulled because of political challenges. The American people generally understand common sense, and this wasn't common sense.

When we see the cost of regulations in this country right now being $10,000 per employee, we add this to the impact on the farm family, those that have incorporated in order to carry on their business and ultimately carry on farming for generations, we see additional problems. So we want to make sure that this debate carries through and ultimately we don't have to do it again, but that we preserve the right to farm, we preserve the right to carry on the farming tradition, and the opportunity to train our young people to do something that is valuable long term and full of impact.

Having said that, Mr. Speaker, I yield the remainder of my time to the sponsor of this bill, the gentleman from Iowa (Mr. Latham).

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