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Posted on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 9:02 a.m.

Michigan farmers urged to protest federal rules proposal banning children from some farm work

By Nathan Bomey


Agricultural operations like Manchester's Horning Farm, seen above, would be affected by proposed federal regulations on child workers.

Joseph Tobianski I

(See previous story: Special report: Michigan's next big job opportunity: growing agricultural industry?)

Michigan farmers are protesting proposed federal regulations that would limit the amount of work children under 16 years old can perform on the farm, according to a report by the Grand Rapids Press.

Members of the Michigan Farm Bureau, gathered at an annual meeting in Grand Rapids, were urged to use computer stations to send comments to the U.S. Department of Labor voicing opposition to regulations that would "ban children under 16 from performing tasks such as working with livestock, stacking hay bales more than 6 feet and climbing ladders more than 6 feet," the Press reported.

"The sad part of this is ... grandkids could no longer work for or be with us older folks," Bureau President Wayne H. Wood told members, according to the Press. "Most of us developed our work ethic and learned life's hard lessons by working on a farm ... It teaches that there is no free ride. You must work."

Read the full Grand Rapids Press story here.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.


Kathleen Giesting

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 6:55 p.m.

Growing up on a farm, I spent a lot of time caring for animals and doing various chores. I learned a lot and kept physically fit. Great experience. My first reaction after that is to ask "who is going to harvest our crops?" It is difficult to get farm labor now; what do we do when available labor is made illegal. What do they want farm kids to do -- play video games and join the ranks of the unfit and obese?


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 3:31 a.m.

@DonBee, I did not ignore your post, but you are misinformed. Here's what the MSU Ag Extension School has to say about this: &quot;The proposed rules would not apply to children who work for their parents (or a relative who acts in place of a parent) on a farm owned or operated by that parent. ยท The rules apply only to "young hired farm workers" and are not intended to apply to 4-H participants tending to their animals boarded on someone else's farm or performing duties relating to a fair project, as long as they are not performing these duties for hire.&quot; <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> My point is there are a lot of people on here jumping to conclusions because this blog does not bother to report anything beyond what the very, very conservative Farm Council has to say. I thought you were supposed to get both sides of the story. Why do readers have to do the work?


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 12:07 a.m.

bhall - I talked to the county agents in 3 counties on this set of rules (county agents work for the MSU Extension Agency). While the MSU website is &quot;glass half full&quot;, the country extension agents are not so positive. Having talked to an OSHA person today, I can tell you OSHA intends to enforce these rules strictly. I for one would not allow a non-family child have 4-H animals at my location after these rules go into effect if they are under 16. I could not afford the fines. Trading work for animals is over. Like it or not, the advice I have convinces me that I for one will avoid any outside hires or trading labor with neighbors in the future for anyone under 16. I will not risk the fines. I suspect many others will decide to do a similar thing.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 6:37 p.m.

&quot;this blog does not bother to report anything beyond what the very, very conservative Farm Council has to say&quot; And there in lies your bias!


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 3:01 a.m.

bhall - You ignored my posts. In a rural community several things are true this messes with: 1) the ability of a multigeneration farm to be transferred in an orderly fashion. 2) the ability to work as a common community to farm 3) the ability of farms to support neighbors in 4-H and other activities that are normally run as &quot;labor for food, animals or space to grow animals&quot; 4) the ability of the &quot;extra&quot; kid in a large family to help the neighbor who has none at home - in many cases they are at Michigan State getting their Ag degrees, so they can run the farm in the future In short - it is not just about one thing, it is about the whole way a rural community operates. But then since milk comes from the grocery store, who needs farms, right?


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 1:35 a.m.

Wow, has sunk to a new low. Is this Faux News? At least try to pretend you can do more than cut and paste. If you actually READ the proposed rule, it says it does not apply to children working on farms owned by their parents. It also says it does not apply to children working on LLCs in which their parents have the majority interest. That took me .5 seconds to do. Way to go dot com.

average joe

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 12:02 a.m.

Maybe this is the DOL's way of hiring more unemployed- If the farms can't have the young folks working, then they'll need to fill these positions.......

Stephen Landes

Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 7:03 p.m.

For all those that think voting Democrat is a good idea please remember this issue next time you're in the voting booth. The idea that family farms and the way farm families raise their children is the business of the Federal government is ridiculous and dangerous. If you are worried at all about losing your freedom to live as you choose you had better vote for people who want LESS GOVERNMENT.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 1:48 p.m.

@bhall I contend that more people went into foreclosure not because their investments went south. But because they did not Choose to live within their means. They chose to use that credit card. They chose to buy something else rather than make that credit card payment. They had no self control. Much like a kid in a candy store.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 4:20 a.m.

@jcj, Both parties since the 1920s have promoted home ownership. Let's be clear: Wall Street -- and specifically one sector of Wall Street -- caused the financial crash by creating increasingly risky products that worked as long as home values kept going up. Of course, everybody who has a 401k, and an investment in the market enabled this by pouring more assets into these vehicles. You can ascribe a number of faults -- lax regulation, greed by Wall Street, and our ignorance that what goes up always comes down. Forced loans to poor people? Eh, not so much.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 3:28 a.m.

Was it not the government that forced mortgage companies to give loans to unqualified persons?


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 9:41 p.m.

@JCJ Mortgage backed securities was the idea of Wall Street, not government.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 9:02 p.m.

NOT! Too much government in the form of forced loans was the biggest reason for the collapse! But you would not know that from listening to Modcow Rachel Maddow!


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 7:13 p.m.

We tried the &quot;less government&quot; of Bush/Cheney and that culminated in the Wall Street Crash of 2008. More credit default swaps, anyone?


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 6:57 p.m.

Judging from the posts here, does that mean we should get rid of all child labor laws and let employers exploit kids and force them to work in unsafe conditions?


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 3:29 a.m.

@Mun You have not answered MY question!


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 10:44 p.m.

Mun - In a word, no. But, messing in family farms is very different from controlling factory labor. Families in farm country count on every member of the family to make it work. Many farms are passed generation to generation, some have been in the same family for more than 150 years. Child labor laws don't apply to family owned bars, resturants, etc. Why should they apply to farms?


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 9:42 p.m.

You haven't answered my question, should we get rid of child labor laws?


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 9:03 p.m.

I'd change exploit to &quot;build character and become productive members of society&quot; provided they can reach the pedals or use a phone book to sit on. They can drive a combine but plowing is a bit trickier, you have to keep straight, so that probably won't be as productive. Remind them to stay away from the anhydrous and the atrazine and the will be fine


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 8:59 p.m.

@Mun Have YOU ever worked on a farm? Ever been on one? Please fill us in as to YOUR experience with any farm. BTW I started working on a farm at age 14 making 1 cent a bale helping with haying. Later moved up to $1 an hour.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 6:08 p.m.

Way to go Nathan. You once again stir the pot with disinformation. Could you please do some actual reporting before cutting and pasting?


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 1:32 a.m.

@gsorter, if you read the proposed rule it clearly states that LLCs in which the family is the majority interest would be exempted from this change. It's too bad that readers now have to do the work of reporters to actually sort through the text of rulemaking.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 6:33 p.m.

What pot is Nathan stirring, and where is the disinformation? My family's farm is an LLC, which apparently would now require ANYONE working on it to be 16. I hope the farmers band together to defeat this ridiculous list. Bad enough our friends in Washington are trying to regulate Atrazine. We don't need a nanny on the farm


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 5:49 p.m.

A lot of you people are just plain silly, I mean the government knows what is best.We all know that every regulation made has been completely and thoroughly thought through.( why do I feel the last part is poor grammar )


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 5:47 p.m.

Hmm, why not just enforce the existing laws? The answer to everything is now new legislation. Its like this with Medicaid and Medicare to. If they just hired people to monitor, investigate and enforce the laws on the books we wouln't need things like ACO's.

average joe

Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 5:07 p.m.

From the link that justcurious provided-&quot;According to the DOL, the proposed rules would "increase parity between agricultural and nonagricultural child labor provisions." So the DOL is admitting that this isn't about safety at all, but rather 'parity'. Also, does this mean that kids under 16 won't be able to show certain kinds of animals at 4-H events?


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 8:16 p.m.

Average Joe - It has to achieve a certain amount of annual revenue (not profit) from the land or be actively planted and harvested. In the case of our farm growing up, if we did not have the ability to can, smoke, freeze and dry food for the family, we would not have had food to eat, we made so little from the farm after costs most years. Smaller farms already struggle to make it, in most cases 1 adult works a job off the farm to cover the taxes, etc.

average joe

Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 5:17 p.m.

Don- This raises another question- What defines a farm (vs. non-farm)? Is it so much income derived from farm activities?


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 5:13 p.m.

If they are not from a farm family, it will probably mean they are locked out of 4-H, since many of the non-farm family 4-H kids trade work for animals, feed, animal housing, etc. I know my 4-H club is about 70% non-farm families and 30% farm families, most of the non-farm family kids trade work for the ability to use the farm to grow their animals. While it will not stop this practice, it will seriously reduce the number of kids who have the opportunity.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 4:49 p.m.

This bill really hurts the smaller farms with families on them. Say 400 acres (50 dairy cows or 80 beef cows or 100 hogs) because they tend to work cooperatively with others of that size. Growing up on a small farm, we routinely pooled resources to get the crops in, with neighbors working together on the farms. I got paid (a tiny amount, well below minimum wage) for working for the neighbors and their kids got the same from us. It was the only hard money I got growing up - my spending money for the year. I drove tractor, combine, ran the hay elevator into the barn, filled siloes and did other jobs that would be limited all from the time I was about 10. As my age rose, the manual labor portion of my work increased and the driving tractor part decreased - younger children with less muscle drove the old tractors that had top speeds of 3 or 4 miles an hour pulling wagons to the barn or siloes. We made ends meet by working together. This bill would force the smallest commercial farmers off the land and give more land to the factory farms. Good going Government - more money for ConAgra and Cargill.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 9:01 p.m.

Don I totally agree with you. I grew up on a beed and dairy farm. I started driving tractor when I was 8 years old. I had chores everyday before and after school, feeding all the calves and getting the silage and grain to the dairy cows. During the fall, when I was in school and was FORCED to come inside and get ready for bed, I would watch from my bedroom window, dad and the neighbors chopping corn and filling silo until I fell asleep. Point being, I was forced not to help, not to help. When summer got there, then the work really poured into overdrive. I got to be &quot;one of the guys&quot; and work ground until I got forced to stop for the evening. The point I make of this diatribe is the fact that yea I had to work but it was the best childhood I could ever imagine and the work ethic that was instilled back then still steams strong to this day. Ask yourselves this: How many kids do you see that are 8 or 10 years old would you allow to drive anything with a motor unsupervised? How many 12-15 year olds would you allow to drive a 200 thousand dollar combine? Grouping small family farms into this is absolutely absurd. Look on the bright side, the kids have Xbox and Sega and whatever other video games out there to keep them busy. society has lost its mind


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 3:49 p.m.

Claiming that farmers are self-sufficient is pretty disingenuous at best. No farm in the country could compete with imported food without the enormous government subsidies provided.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 2:08 p.m.

Your opinion is not the one I was addressing.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 2:57 a.m.

Peter - Please reread my post. I want the subsidies to disappear. I think it give the government too much control in the rural communities.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 11:03 p.m.

The minimum market price ensures that farmers can sell the food they grow in the US. Without subsidies, farmers would lose money trying to sell their crops. We export food because we grow a lot of it - but even the exports are subsidized. Again though, the reason for bringing that up is to point out the inherent hypocrisy in complaints about the government being too intrusive, when the government keeps the whole industry afloat.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 10:41 p.m.

Peter - The farm subsidies go to create a minimum market price, which should mean that US crops are more expensive than the rest of the world and we would not export food. The reality is we export a lot of food all over the world. Our farms are that good. I agree crop subsidies should disappear, so should ethanol subsidies and all other farming subsidies. Much of the subsidy money goes to people who do not actively farm, but own land.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 8:32 p.m.

If we didn't spend $20b+ on direct subsidies each year for farms, as well as tax breaks and other indirect subsidies, we wouldn't be exporting anything. I don't think this is a bad thing, by the way, it's quite good actually. But throwing out tired old reactionary view points like 'the government shouldn't step in to stop child labor' and proclaiming farmers to be self-sustained Randian ubermensch without demanding the government to stop funding them is rather inconsistent.

average joe

Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 5:13 p.m.

There are actually a great number of farms that produce non-traditional(&amp; not hemp...) crops, with fruit &amp; vegetable farms being in this group. They receive no gov. subsidies, and most of them are indeed self-sufficient.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 4:27 p.m.

Shouldn't for poplar, for as fast as they grow to maturity. I don't knwo anyone personally that eats poplar trees... :)


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 4:25 p.m.

Switchgrass and poplar ok, as long as we don't eat it, and it doesn't need a subsidy to be competitive with gas, diesel, cng, etc.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 4:17 p.m.

What about switchgrass and popler (sp) trees, those ok?


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 4:12 p.m.

Imported food?? We are the world's main exporter of food, not importer. Our output is envied by the rest of the world. Besides, not every farmer participates in set-asides. And yes, corn and beans should not be used for fuel, get rid of the biofuel subsidies.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 3:46 p.m.

The rules don't apply to family-owned farms, so the comments by Wood -- which are highlighted prominently in this story -- are disingenuous. Please report on the rules to state fairly and accurately what they are all about.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 2:56 a.m.

bhall - Agreed on the majority ownership, unfortunately, in most cases the majority early on is held by the grandparents, and transferred over time. Also this limits the ability of neighbors to help neighbors, a very common and needed support mechanism in rural communities.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 1:30 a.m.

@Donbee, If you read the proposed rules, it says: &quot;If a majority of the interests in the entity are held by the parents of the children-employees, the exemption would apply.&quot; So there's no change to children who work on farms that are owned by their parents, or owned by a corporation in which their parents are the majority interests.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 4:52 p.m.

bhall - In order to pass farm land down, most families now have an LLC or a family trust, both are impacted by these rules.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 4:08 p.m.

How about a family farm held as an LLC?? I'd re-read that section


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 3:21 p.m.

Justcurious, I note the glaring exception to what you state, specifically if the family farm is owned as an LLC or other corporate entity. Then what?? Still very misguided


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 3:18 p.m.

As someone who drove a tractor on a family farm at 14 in Ida Michigan, I can say with certainty that this government intrusion is very misguided. It reminds me that the worst phrase you can hear is &quot;We're from the government, and we are here to help&quot;. Farmers as a lot tend to be, and need to be very self sufficient. Farmers are truly entrepreneurs. Whole families are expected to contribute in order for a farm to be viable. My great uncle farmed from the time he was a young boy until his death at 92 recently. My ancestors who survived the depression while farming are rolling over in their graves as to what a nanny state we've become. I hope we are all willing to pay more for food if these dictates become law.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 3:42 p.m.

Not to worry redwingshero, my depression ancestors grew onions, which were not one of the 7 crops listed under the Agricultural Adjustment Act. I agree that it doesn't make sense to distort free markets by either forcing land to lie fallow, subsidizing crops, or to burn food as ethanol or biodiesel.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 3:23 p.m.

I sincerely hope your ancestors that farmed during the great depression were not part of the large groups of farms that were paid by the government to dispose of extra crops they had harvested instead of giving it to those that were starving.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 3:14 p.m.

Here is the actual proposal for those interested. There is always more to the story. Luckily we all have the tools to find out more. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> "The proposed rules do not attempt to make changes or limit the current exemption for youth workers employed on farms owned or operated by parents- the new rules would only apply to hired workers."


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 4:50 p.m.

See my post below for why this is really really bad for most small commercial farms. The kind most people say they want to see continue.

the thing is...

Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 3:57 p.m.

Well, that's a whole different story, isn't it.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 3:14 p.m.

Unfortunately, this law will affect family farms. But I believe the intent of the law is to halt the abuse of migrant children by corporate farms.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 2:55 p.m.

Why is the Federal Government involved in this at all? I think we need a little less &quot;Hope &amp; Change&quot;!


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 2:42 p.m.

Is this really about not being able to have their kids work on farms to continue generations of traditions, or is it a way to prevent additional federal guidelines from being applicable to farms/agrcultural businesses (such as OSHA laws)?


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 2:35 p.m.

Just what we need to be doing. Discouraging today's youth from working! How many jobs are available for someone under 16? Just another example of panty waste govt official gong awry! no doubt a group of bureaucratic nitwits that would not know a hay rake from a hair pick!


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 2:36 p.m.

Gone awry. Not sure how that g got in there!


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 2:27 p.m.

Child labor laws came about because industrial capitalists were exploiting children. Farming isn't just a job or a paycheck, it's a lifestyle. And if you ask me, there is nothing wrong with children being outside and close to the earth while make a living and helping to support their family.


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 2:51 p.m.

Not that I have any issue with kids working on farms as they have for centuries, but are you ok with OSHA laws not applying to farms?


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 2:22 p.m.

What is wrong with the govt? Do they want everyone in the chains of welfare?


Wed, Nov 30, 2011 : 3:22 p.m.