The song touches upon controversial regulations concerning the dairy industry and the government’s paternalistic effort to insert itself between the family farmer and the consumer. The family farm’s very existence is being imperiled by ill-conceived, wholly unnecessary regulations proposed by the U.S. Labor Department, Department of Agriculture and other overreaching federal agencies. The regulations plainly favor big food manufacturers over family farms that have been the bedrock of this country for two centuries. Family farmers are being forced to pay absurd fines and are having their property searched and seized, all under the guise of food safety. Unless changed, many family farmers will go bankrupt and cease to exist because they cannot comply with every abusive regulatory requirement or afford the resulting fines imposed by Washington. The direct result will hurt us all – reduced food choices, decreased health benefits, more unemployed workers, and increased costs.
When child labor laws were developed years ago, there was a very necessary exemption for family farms. Under the premise of improving safety, the Department of Labor has attempted to eliminate many of the tasks that a family’s children or young adults do on their family’s farm.
Fortunately, the Labor Department has been flooded with thousands of comments about the new rules. Many outraged farmers weighed in against the changes. One rancher wrote: “The federal government cannot save everyone from accidents and incidents that happen in life nor should they have the authority to try. “This nanny-ism mentality has gone overboard.”
In late March, Congressman Mike Turner joined several members of Ohio’s Congressional delegation in writing to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis warning against the impact of the new regulation on the state’s family farm industry. “As written, the most concerning portions of the rule would prevent most young men and women from working on family farms and deny children opportunities to learn the practical skills offered through 4-H, FFA and Supervised Agricultural Experience programs,” wrote the Members. “This is yet another example of a federal department or agency unilaterally enacting new rules or regulations outside the supervision of Congress. Had Ohioans and farming families across the country not spoken out, this could have had a devastating effect on the important role of agriculture to our nation’s economy,” added Turner.
Senator Moran said, “The proposed rules say you cannot be involved in production agriculture if you are more than six feet off the ground. In today’s environment, in today’s agriculture, tractors and combines are six feet off the ground. You can’t clean out a stall with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. Those are things I am sure the 15-year-old does not want to do, but they are things important to a family’s farming operation, they are important to agriculture and a value to a young person in their training and developing skills that are important to them for the rest of their life.”
“They can’t work in a pen with a bull or mama cow. Here is one that really stands out to me: No engaging or assisting in animal husbandry that “inflict pain upon the animal,” such as branding, breeding, dehorning, vaccinating, castrating, or treating sick animals. The “inflicting pain” restriction sounds like something more than an interest—“inflicting pain” sounds like a different standard than really worrying about the young person’s safety. These are important tasks that have to be done on a farm and that young people can safely do.”
“One example, one additional example, that stands out to me, is that they are suggesting in the rules that they would limit a young person’s exposure to direct sunlight if the temperature reaches a certain limit once you factor in wind velocity and humidity. How does that work in the practical world of agriculture and farming today? For someone in Washington, DC, to propose rules that restrict a young person’s ability to work on a neighbor’s farm because of the amount of sunlight, wind velocity, and humidity is something that again, in my view, demonstrates a lack of understanding about how things work in the real world.”
“One would assume that the Department of Labor, before making such drastic changes to farm labor rules, would have identified reliable evidence and data to show the need for changes. In fact, the Department of Labor admits it lacks the data to justify many of its suggested changes…..”
Gov. Terry Branstad weighed in..“These new, over-reaching regulations will prevent young people from learning through supervised hands-on experience and obtaining life-long values,” Branstad said. “The federal government should not construct further employment barriers at a time when there are fewer job opportunities available for young people.”
Facing both bipartisan political pressure and significant public outcry, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it would drop its proposed labor rules targeting the family farm. Shortly after, Iowa lawmakers from both parties praised the decision.
“It’s good the Labor Department rethought the ridiculous regulations it was going to stick on farmers and their families. It would have been devastating to farm families across the country,” Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said in a statement. “To even propose such regulation defies common sense, and shows a real lack of understanding as to how the family farm works. I’m glad the Obama administration came to its senses.”
Bruce Braley, Iowa’s Democratic 1st District Congressman, also favored the move to repeal the regulations.
“The demise of the Obama administration’s proposed rule to require children to be a minimum age to work on farms is welcome news,” Braley said in a release. “A regulation prohibiting youths from working on farms would strike at the very core of agriculture across Iowa and the Midwest. This is Iowa. Working on the family farm is part of growing up.”
Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin did give a more designed response.
“Although the Child Labor rule has been withdrawn, we cannot walk away from our obligation to protect vulnerable workers, especially children. The regulations have not been updated in 40 years, and we have learned a lot about farm safety since then,” Harkin wrote in a release. “I am disappointed that the administration chose to walk away from regulations that were, at their core, about protecting children and which could have been revised to correct some of the initial proposals that generated the most concern. I know from my discussions with farmers throughout Iowa that we can both protect children and ensure the success of family farms and I will continue to work to protect both in our state.”
Clearly, the “family farm labor issue” is not over. Newly revised regulations will be proposed when the political process senses the vulnerability of this group of hard working, citizens who are critical to the continued freedom of the American culture.
The song “Family Farm” is a powerfully simple “Texas Country” format with harmonies accompanied by drums, electric guitars, banjo, fiddle and steel guitar. Country music is one of the most listened to radio genres during the evening and morning rush hour commutes and “Family Farm” will get you going in either direction.
Derived from the traditional Western and honky tonk musical styles, and mixed with the anger of an alienated group of our country’s most independent citizens, – the family farmer – this song might be considered to be a new interpretation of the “outlaw” country music from years past. This time however, the whole family has been made “outlaw” by the overreaching federal government and they’re “really riled up.” Even the cows are upset, just listen.
Check it out. You may know an “outlaw.” If you farm or grow stuff, you may be one. Buy this song, tell your friends, and let everybody know what’s happening.