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A small victory for farm families — and for common sense

 

As Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said, “We need to send the signal that all work is honorable” and, I might add, even expected.

Staples was responding to recently withdrawn USDA child labor laws that would have severely restricted parents’ ability to allow their teens to do farm work. Fortunately, saner heads prevailed. American farm families took the potential loss of important parental rights very seriously and mounted a successful grass-roots campaign.

There is a safety issue with farm equipment, of course, but there are also responsibilities. What farm kid hasn’t grown up riding on the tractor from the time he was knee-high to a duck? Well, not so much anymore, but that is how it used to be. That is how responsible farmers developed, with one generation teaching valuable practical lessons to the next.

Growing up on a farm meant that everyone did their part, whether it was helping chop weeds, haul hay, fix fences, or drive a tractor. Learning these skills at a young age instilled that all-important work ethic in farm kids, and it stayed with them for life.

That was before the nanny state began to impose its own rules, usurping parental rights with safety concerns. Despite its claims, the government isn’t helping the situation. There is legitimate concern, of course about irresponsible parents being reckless and exposing young children to unsafe conditions but this can happen in any household -- not just on a farm.

When we are talking about farm kids working in the fields, we are not talking about an abusive situation. Rather, we are talking about parents teaching their children the rewards of working the soil, of raising crops for both food and for commercial use, and of dealing with the weather and learning to accept the consequences, and of being responsible. Farm children learn firsthand to understand the correlation between work and rewards, but these opportunities were almost taken from parents.

As Nathan Smith of the Texas Farm Bureau wrote: “A half-cocked rule aimed at restricting young people’s activity on the farm was shot down last week when the Labor Department (DOL) withdrew the proposal.”

Farmers and ranchers are, by nature, committed to safety and conservation. They hold themselves responsible for the well-being of those under their employ, especially teenagers.

Thankfully, for now at least, common sense has prevailed, but we know that the mindset of the nanny state that led Department of Labor officials to issue these rules is still there, and there will be more attempts to disrupt family farms.

We must remain vigilant and do our part in protecting parents’ rights and the ability for parents to teach the virtues of farming and passing them to the next generation.

It takes more than government subsidies to make a successful farmer. It takes hard work -- the kind of work that can best be learned alongside a hard-working parent.

 
 
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