The National Grange recently took a stand against proposed regulations by the U.S. Dept. of Labor that would limit the ability of teenagers to assist in farming operations across the country, calling the proposal "destructive" to the agriculture industry.
National Grange Legislative Director Nicole Palya Wood said the regulations take aim at many of the daily chores of rural youth and seek to drastically narrow the exemptions provided to these family farms by redefining farm ownership.
"With farming operations becoming more and more efficient and complex, this new language could leave many of our rural youth prohibited from the farms that are their heritage," Wood said Tuesday.
Ed Luttrell, president of the National Grange, America's oldest agriculture and rural America advocacy organization, said the proposed regulation goes against the grain of the American values many Grange members hold dear.
"So many of us grew up on farms, and our parents and neighbors helped us learn work ethic by giving us the opportunity, when we proved ourselves ready, to have more and more responsibility," Luttrell said. "This proposed regulation is big government stepping in to tell us when a child is ready to learn the value of work and become a contributing member of their community based on age, not on maturity. American values and a good work ethic, start at a young age, and the lessons these kids learn even doing small chores are invaluable."
The regulation, Luttrell said, "will have a direct and detrimental impact to agriculture, and would further exacerbate one of the most serious problems we as a nation face: the failure to see value in hard work."
"In our organization, many, if not most, of our leaders learned our work ethic on the farm. Even though many of us chose not to become farmers directly, we learned everything about what it is to put in a full and hard day's work, to have accountability and to do a job with pride from our time on the farm," Luttrell said. "The idea to limit on farm employment for teens is destructive to not just the agriculture industry, not just specific farm families, but to their entire generation."
Many groups have argued against the proposed regulations, citing an even more removed view of the agriculture industry for the American public.
Lasting ag impact
Luttrell said the proposed regulation would "limit the exposure young people have to farming and could have a lasting impact on agriculture."
"Most children and teens have never been on a farm. Those who have, and who wish to work on one, are more than likely going to be the producers for the next generation," Luttrell said. "If we don't engage young adults in farming practices and encourage their interest in agriculture, we may threaten our very supply of food and fiber. Consider that a majority of current farmers are 55-years-old or older. Without training and encouraging youth to farm, we are soon going to run out of knowledgeable and motivated agriculturalists. This proposal makes that an even greater likelihood."
Wood also cited recent predictions that show U.S. farmers and ranchers must double production by 2050 to fulfill global food needs.
"We must commit to a safe but vibrant and expanding legacy of future growers, farmers, and ranchers rather than restrict their access, education, and involvement in family farms," Wood said.
Luttrell said the U.S. Dept. of Labor's citation of safety concerns regarding teenage farm labor are valiant but the proposed regulation as a whole is more hurtful than helpful.
"As a family organization, the safety and well being of our youth is a top priority for the Grange, because we know that we are training tomorrow's farmers and ranchers. Bestowed with that responsibility, we also understand that it is necessary to provide a safe and secure setting where our youth can develop their interests in agriculture and carry that knowledge into the future," Luttrell said.
Luttrell also said the proposed regulation would make farming and ranching an even more expensive endeavor, and said burdensome and unnecessary regulations are something the Grange actively lobbies against.
"I think this regulation is unnecessary and is going to add to the cost of doing business in America," Luttrell said.