Changing farm labor laws for kids: help or hindrance? - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Changing farm labor laws for kids: safety aid or learning hindrance?

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HUDSON (KWWL) -

Fall harvest is now complete on Iowa farms.  And on many farms, kids pitch in to help not just with harvest, but year-round ag operations.

The US Labor Department is now mulling over some legal changes that could restrict the jobs kids can do on farms. 

That's because some 16,000 kids are hurt on farms each year and more than 100 are killed.  The Labor Department hopes it can drop those numbers with stricter labor laws.  But many in the farm community think the regulations might be going too far and could negatively impact the very future of agriculture.

On a whim four years ago, Stefanie Newhouse decided to take an elective ag class at Hudson High School.  What she learned piqued her interest so much, she took on two ag-related jobs at a dairy farm and vet clinic.

"At Hansen's, I do everything from feeding calves, milking cows, delivering babies, to artificially inseminating cows.  At the vet clinic, I go back with animals during check-ups, help give shots, do heart worm checks," Newhouse said.

The experience has been so valuable, Newhouse has shaped her high school coursework around her new found interests, with the goal of studying animal science in college next fall.

"It's just really an amazing feeling.  Like I helped save a calf's life one time.  And the adrenaline rush from that is just something you don't really get to do," said Newhouse.

But new proposed labor regulations could threaten the ability for young people like her to gain such experience.  The proposed rules mean kids under 18 couldn't work in grain elevators or feed lots.  And kids under 16 couldn't operate most power driven equipment.  There would also be limitations on working with livestock. Those changes would mostly apply to kids who work on farms not run or supervised by their parents, making it tough for students like Newhouse, whose parents don't farm, to get valuable hands-on training.  And educators say that threatens the very future of ag industries.

"We are trying to produce future people in agriculture who are going to feed the world's population.  I think that having these regulations in place are really going to hinder students to find that passion early on, because a lot of times students find passion in actually experiencing it and seeing it happen," said Dennis Deppe, Hudson High Ag Science teacher and FFA sponsor.

Deppe says keeping kids safe on farms is a top priority.  But he feels that it's best to ensure kids are being supervised by an adult while training and doing farm tasks, rather than banning activities that could give them valuable hands-on experience.

December 1 is the deadline for submitting public comments on the proposed farming child labor changes.  You can submit those comments and read the entire proposal here.

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