‘Agriculture is something that is learned;’ farmers pleased about withdrawn youth labor regs

ROSE HILL—Farm families and their relatives across Virginia are welcoming the recent decision to withdraw proposed federal restrictions on underage farm employees.

“Agriculture is something that is learned” at the side of an older farmer, said Jonathan Cavin, a Lee County beef, produce and tobacco grower who recalled helping his father plow fields when he was a pre-teen. “You have to get the passion for it as a young child. I myself fell in love with agriculture when I was 12 years old.”

Today, Cavin said, “most or all of the information that I go on from day to day has been passed on to me by an older farmer.”

That one-on-one transfer of knowledge would have been lost to anyone other than children of farmers under the proposed rules, he said.

“Under the proposed Department of Labor guidelines, our children would have been allowed to work beside me. But their six cousins, who are the same age, would have been prohibited from doing so,” Cavin said.

Last winter the DOL proposed new restrictions on youth labor on the farm, igniting a firestorm of protest from the U.S. agricultural community. Thousands of farm families wrote in opposition, and a bill was introduced in Congress to reverse the regulations if they went into effect. The DOL announced April 27 it was withdrawing the new regulations and would instead intensify education and safety programs for minors working in a farm environment.

Cavin has represented younger producers in Southwest Virginia on the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers Committee. In rural areas like Lee County, he noted, any labor is hard to come by. He’s already dealing with a ban on hiring minors for his tobacco operation, and the proposed rules would have made it difficult to hire youth for his beef and produce operations.

“Other farmers in my community rely on youth labor even more than I do. Even the local stockyards would have lost laborers on Friday nights and Saturdays. There are a lot of high school juniors and seniors who go work the pens to make some extra money for dates, or to buy their first vehicle,” he said.

The DOL announcement noted the department would work with rural stakeholders such as Farm Bureau, the National Farmers Union, FFA and 4-H to prevent accidents among young farm workers and promote safe working practices.

The withdrawal of the proposed rules won’t weaken his focus on keeping all his employees safe, Cavin added. “We have a very rigid safety program in place. Every year we have what we refer to as Safety Day, where we re-introduce the safety videos we have for our farms and we discuss safety with our work force, both new and returning workers.”

Contact Cavin at 423-851-2530; Wilmer Stoneman, VFBF associate director of governmental relations, at 804-290-1024; or Norm Hyde, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1146.

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