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Farmers: Proposed child labor laws hinder family farms

BY DORA GROTE | FEBRUARY 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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Some local farm advocates are concerned current proposed child-labor rules could restrict today's young farmers.

The U.S. Department of Labor introduced a new set of rules in late 2011 that prohibit workers under the age of 16 to work in manure pits and with certain animals unless their parents completely own the farm, said Roger McEowen, the director of the Iowa State University Center for Law and Taxation.

Russ Meade, the Johnson County Farm Bureau president, said the county's number of multigenerational farms is unique in the state and exposes a lot of children to farm life early on.

"We have a diverse makeup of smaller farms that rely heavily on extended family involvement," Meade said. "[The regulations] would significantly restrict kids' ability to participate."

The proposals also state children under 18 would not be allowed to work in feedlots, grain elevators, stockyards, and livestock auctions.

Following uproar from farmers across the state, the department proposed to revise the rules earlier this month — but no specific changes have been made, McEowen said.

"It's a non-committal response," he said. "It's really kind of hazy as to where [the Department of Labor] is going with this. They got a big blowback on these proposed rules."

Kurt Dallmeyer, who owns Dallmeyer farms near Wellman, Iowa, said the regulations could put a dent in the number of future farmers in Iowa.

According the last agriculture census from the U.S. Agriculture Department, there are 1,293 farms in Johnson County.

"You develop your interest in agriculture at a young age," Dallmeyer said. "If they want to put rules in place that say it's too dangerous or too scary, they're basically going to limit the number of people who want to be involved in agriculture, because they don't have the experience."

The proposed rules could encourage laziness, he added.

"If you're from the Midwest, they always say, 'The good old farm boy, they have that work ethic and want to work and get something done,' " Dallmeyer said. "We have a society today that is based so heavily on handouts — and why would we want to help create something that makes people who do not want to go out and get a job?"

Dal Grooms, the communications director for the Iowa Cattlemen's Association, said safety is a big concern for farm parents with children who help out.

"We know that safety and the responsibility of animal care can go hand-in-hand when properly planned and supervised," Grooms said. "It is through that exposure to circumstances involved in livestock production that young people learn how to safely work with livestock."

Dallmeyer has three children who help out on his farm feeding livestock and doing chores. Meade has a daughter who helps out, too.

"It's up to the parent to determine their children's skills," Meade said. "We want our kids to be safe and would not put them in position of something they can't handle."

Meade and Dallmeyer both expressed concerns the law could hurt family farms while boosting the trend of factory farms in Iowa.

"I think that's something we can be proud of in Johnson County," Meade said. "There are a lot of small farms still thriving here."


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