Legislation protects the tradition of family farms

Mar 23, 2012
by WLJ

Just in time to honor National AG Day, Iowa Congressman Tom Latham introduced bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Congress that will block Washington’s attack on America’s long-standing family farm tradition. Latham’s bill blocks recent attempts by the Department of Labor (DOL), with moral support from the Department of Agriculture, to increase federal regulatory involvement into family farms that risk outlawing farm youth from working on their family-owned farms.

“The family farm is one of Iowa’s most cherished traditions and a cornerstone of our state and nation’s economy and cultural history,” Latham said. “The armies of federal bureaucrats who spend day after day drawing up new regulations have now set their sights on the institution of the family farm. It is a misguided idea that threatens the ability of America’s youth to contribute to farms owned by their own families. My legislation blocks Washington’s regulation monster from yet another intrusion into the operations of our family farms.”

The legislation, the Preserving America’s Family Farms Act, bars DOL from implementing any regulation that would prohibit farm youth from working on farms owned by their families by restricting finalization of the rule the department proposed in September of 2011.

Historically, family farms have been exempted from child labor rules, but concerns have arisen that a proposal from DOL could jeopardize 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.

DOL’s proposed regulation also would eliminate a pair of certification programs that allow student learners to perform certain kinds of farm work, such as the operation of tractors. The proposed elimination of the certification programs has drawn opposition from farm youth groups like FFA and 4-H.

Latham introduced the legislation with Rep. Dan Boren, an Oklahoma Democrat who joined Latham to speak out against the misguided regulation in December.

“Many family farms in Oklahoma depend on the contributions of youth for their successful operation,” Boren said. “While I understand the concern for safety of young people on farms, the government should be careful to not adversely impact these small businesses. I look forward to working with my colleague Congressman Latham to advance this bill.”

“Family farms depend on contributions from everyone in the family, and often that includes youth,” Latham said. “This is an Iowa tradition that goes back generations and one in which I and my brothers proudly participated growing up on our family farm in Franklin County. Everyone agrees that safety is the top priority, especially when children are involved, but I’m fighting to make sure the Department of Labor takes a break from regulation without contemplation of all the ramifications to make them sensitive to the real life needs of family farms to stay in business and keep an American tradition alive and strong.”

Latham’s new legislation is the product of a grassroots effort to gain input from farm youth organizations and Iowa farmers that dates back to last year when he authored and introduced bipartisan legislation to express the sense of Congress that DOL should recognize the unique circumstances of family farm youth and multi-generational family partnerships in agricultural operations. As part of the effort, Latham hosted a booth at the 2012 Iowa Pork Congress in Des Moines to raise awareness of the issue and ask Iowa farmers for their thoughts and opinions. — WLJ