The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

April 27, 2012
Family farmers win skirmish on safety regulations for kids
A big concern in California's farming community is how to attract younger people to agriculture. The average age of the state's 130,000 farmers and ranchers is getting close to 60, and it's not at all clear who will step in when they retire.

As I wrote about last fall as part of the "Regs Run Amok" series, some argue that excessive layers of regulation are helping drive family farmers off the land and getting in the way of younger farmers just starting out.

In recent weeks, one regulation that has received a lot of attention was a federal proposal that would have banned children under 16 from using tractors and most other powered farm equipment, and would have restricted those under 18 from working at grain silos and feed lots.

Even though the proposal didn't cover children of farmers, family farmers flooded the department with comments in opposition, saying the proposal would add unnecessary restrictions. Agribusiness also lobbied against it.

Thursday, the Labor Department announced it was withdrawing the proposal.

The California Farm Bureau Federation joined those applauding the decision.

"Few issues galvanized family farmers and ranchers like this one did," federation President Paul Wenger said in a statement. "Everyone who has grown up on a farm or ranch recognizes the value of allowing young people to learn by doing."

Not everyone is happy with the decision.

Advocacy groups for migrant farm workers say that the rules would have protected children who are hired by farmers. Some accused the Obama administration of caving to powerful farm groups and lawmakers from rural states in an election year.

"These were common-sense protections that would have saved many children's lives," David Strauss, executive director of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, said in a statement.

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About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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