Farm work too dangerous for youths?

Tipton calls hearing on proposed change to agriculture labor rules

WASHINGTON — Farmers and congressmen Thursday advocated to protect the right of young people to work in agriculture after the Department of Labor released proposed rules that would restrict such employment.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez called for a hearing of the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade to hear from the Department of Labor about the rules.

The Department of Labor decided last week it would revisit the parental-exemption portion, which says youths younger than 16 can work only on their parents’ farm or for persons standing in place of parents. The language of the proposed rule was questioned by Tipton and others, who want to extend the definition of parents to include grandparents and neighbors.

Chris Chinn, co-owner of Chinn Hog Farm, in written testimony, said she used to work at her grandparents’ farm.

“If the proposal you are examining today were in effect then, my upbringing and childhood would have been far different and much less fulfilling,” she wrote.

Brent Boydston, who works for the Colorado Farm Bureau, said, “A lot of things on the rule look good on paper, but in actuality are just ridiculous.”

Representatives at the meeting agreed, saying agriculture is a field where farmers learn by doing. Tipton, a Republican, said the proposed rules could have disastrous unintended consequences.

Department of Agriculture census data from 2007 showed more than 37,000 farms in Colorado. La Plata and Montezuma counties accounted for more than 2,000 of those farms.

According to the National Farm Medicine Center, there were 695 farm-related youth fatalities on U.S. farms between 1995 and 2000.

“My 14-year-old daughter, Rochelle, has been to the emergency room three times this year,” said Chinn. “Not one of these injuries was a result of something that happened on our family farm. Instead, they were school-related sports injuries.”

Rep. Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont., attended the hearing to express his resentment for the Department of Labor’s proposed rules. Rehberg said the differences in Congress are not between Republicans and Democrats, but rather “in philosophy between urban and rural.”

The Department of Labor has received more than 10,000 comments regarding the rule and now is re-evaluating the proposed rules.

“That’s something we’re trying to point at,” Tipton said. “Maybe even before you even started the rule, you should have been doing more background. You should have been visiting with the Farm Bureau and others.”

Kelcie Pegher is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. Reach her at herald@durangoherald.com