The U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday approved bipartisan legislation authored and introduced by Iowa Congressman Tom Latham that blocks federal agencies from enacting regulations that threaten the ability of farm youth to work on operations owned by their families and threatens youth project activities centered around the FFA and 4-H programs nationwide.
"The family farm is one of Iowa's most cherished traditions and a cornerstone of our culture and economy," Congressman Latham said. "Growing up on our century family farm in Franklin County, Iowa, my brothers and I learned important life lessons about hard work, dedication and responsibility. We have to protect that tradition for the next generation of Iowans. I applaud the majority of my colleagues in the U.S. House for taking up my common-sense proposal to protect America's family farms from this outrageous and misguided government intrusion."
In response to a U.S. Department of Labor proposal that could have kept some farm youth off their family-owned operations and affected FFA and 4-H activities, Congressman Latham introduced the Preserving America's Family Farms Act in March to stop the federal government from implementing any such proposal by restricting finalization of the rule.
Historically, family farms have been exempted from child labor rules, but concerns arose when the Department of Labor proposed a new rule that could have jeopardized that exclusion for operations that are partly owned by extended family members such as grandparents, aunts or uncles. Such practices occur often in modern agriculture as families employ a variety of legal structures to remain financially viable.
The Labor Department withdrew its proposal in the spring after a coalition of agricultural and farm youth organizations opposed the new rule, but the department's decision is not a guarantee that the same, or a similar rule, won't be proposed or attempted at a later date. While Congressman Latham welcomed the decision to withdraw the proposal, he has continued to push his legislation as a means of giving Iowa family farmers greater certainty over concerns by citizens that possible regulation regarding the youth could still be pursued later.
Congressman Latham introduced the Preserving America's Family Farms Act with Rep. Dan Boren, an Oklahoma Democrat. The legislation is the product of an effort by Congressman Latham to gain grassroots input from farm youth organizations such as FFA as well as a range of family farmers across Iowa.
The legislation has attracted support from many leading agricultural organizations.
"The National FFA Organization is pleased that the debate regarding on-farm youth labor has led to the passage of the Preserving America's Family Farms Act," said Kent Schescke of the National FFA Organization. "Many students of agriculture and FFA members across the country learn lifelong skills and lessons in hard work, character development and leadership by working on family farms and ranches. Through Rep. Latham's leadership, student members of the FFA will continue to have access to these hands-on learning opportunities, and they will continue the time-honored tradition of experiential learning that develops their potential for leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education."
"NPPC thanks Rep. Latham for his leadership on the important issue of on-farm child labor," said National Pork Producers Coalition President R.C. Hunt. "Farmers and ranchers, more than anyone, are concerned about the health and welfare of kids working on farms. Most men and women in agriculture today grew up working on farms as children. It was here that they learned invaluable lessons and the ethic of hard work. Rep. Latham's common sense approach ensures youth in rural America will be protected and will continue to be allowed the opportunities to learn and work on farms."
"Rather than preventing American youth from learning the ropes of food and fiber production from today's farmers and ranchers, regulatory agencies should work with farmers and ranchers to ensure the rules on the books are workable," said Iowa Cattlemen's Association President Ross Havens. "Rules and regulations, including those related to America's youth working on farms and ranches, need to ensure safe working conditions. But the original proposal simply goes too far. Cattlemen's voices were heard when the rule was pulled. However, we need certainty. Our children should be allowed to garner a solid work ethic by participating in day-to-day farm chores. Congressman Latham is working to ensure commonsense prevails and out-of-touch agencies are prevented from turning the next generation of farmers and ranchers into couch potatoes."
The proposal now awaits required consideration by members of the U.S. Senate. Latham worked in March of this year with South Dakota Sen. John Thune to introduce companion legislation in the Senate. The Senate version of Latham's legislation, S.2221, currently lists 44 cosponsors including Iowa Senator Charles Grassley.
"Family farms and ranches depend on young people to carry on the torch as the next leaders in the agricultural community," Sen. Thune said. "The DOL threatened to deprive future farmers and ranchers of valuable experience and training opportunities by restricting their participation in normal agriculture related activities. I am pleased that the House has acted to support farmers and ranchers and I am committed to ensuring that this bill receives consideration in the Senate."