Tester: Don’t limit Montana’s family farms and ranches
Senator says plan prevents kids from learning ‘a solid work ethic’
(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester wants the U.S. Department of Labor to withdraw a controversial proposal restricting the work of young people on family farms and ranches.
In a Senate speech, Tester said the plan limits teens’ work opportunities, hurting Montana’s family farms and ranches and preventing younger generations of farmers and ranchers from learning to safely and responsibly run a farm or ranch.
“I’m calling on the Department of Labor to withdraw this proposal and allow this country’s youth to learn a solid work ethic,” Tester said. “The common sense that goes with that work ethic is critically important to our nation’s future.”
Growing up on a farm near Big Sandy, Tester worked together with his parents and brothers on the family farm. That experience, he says, taught him valuable lessons about hard work and responsibility.
“In Montana, and throughout rural America, young people are expected to help out on the family farm,” Tester added. “By participating in production agriculture, young people learn the value of a hard day’s work. They learn that grain doesn’t come from a box and vegetables don’t come from a bag and meat doesn’t come from a package.”
In October, Tester got the Labor Department to extend the public comment period so Montanans could weigh in on the proposal. After hearing from Montanans, the Labor Department agreed to reevaluate parts of the rule, but that doesn’t go far enough for Tester.
Tester recently sponsored the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act that strengthens initiatives helping young Montanans start and grow their own farm or ranch.
Tester is hosting an Agriculture Small Business Opportunity Workshop on March 12 in Great Falls. The workshop – designed to connect Montana farmers with valuable resources to help them succeed – will be held in the Missouri Room of the Mansfield Civic Center from 8 a.m. to noon. Montanans interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP at tester.senate.gov/agworkshop.
Video of Tester’s floor speech is available online HERE. Text of Tester’s floor speech is available below.
U.S. Senator Jon Tester
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Mr. President, I ask consent to speak as if in morning business.
I thank the floor managers of the highway bill for giving me a couple of minutes today, and I want them to know how appreciative I am of their efforts to find a way forward on this highway legislation.
Nothing creates jobs and makes our economy stronger in the long-run than responsibly investing in our infrastructure. So I thank Senator Boxer and Senator Inhofe for their work.
Last September, the Department of Labor published new child labor regulations. They would have the effect of restricting how and which young people are able to work on farms.
I am deeply concerned by these new rules, which will keep teenagers from working at farms and ranches.
As the Senate’s only working farmer, I know how important it is for young people to have the opportunity to work on farms and ranches.
Growing up on the same farm my grandparents homesteaded a century ago, my brothers and I were expected to bale hay, pick rocks, feet the livestock, and do field work.
The work ethic that was instilled in us as youngsters was a big part of my success, and it was that work ethic that built this nation. That work ethic is critical to the future of America.
The skills young people learn from working on a family farm translate into a healthy work ethic that will serve them their entire lives, whether they choose to stay in agriculture or not.
Family farm agriculture is one of the foundations of the United States, and irresponsibly regulating the ability of young people to fully experience and grow from it will be detrimental to our future.
I know firsthand that agriculture is a uniquely family industry in the United States.
In Montana, and throughout rural America, young people are expected to help out on the family farm.
That’s part of the economics of family agriculture. For smaller farms and ranches to survive, it has to be everyone pitching in.
And by participating in production agriculture, young people learn the value of a day’s work. They also learn that grain doesn’t come from a box and vegetables don’t come from a bag and meat doesn’t come from a package.
The new rules get in the way of that.
That is because these rules were not written with a solid understanding of how family production agriculture works today.
We are losing family farms every day. In my hometown of Big Sandy, for example, I went to school with 40 or so kids in my high school class. Today, there are 60 or so kids in the entire high school.
The farms and ranches are getting bigger and fewer folks are living in rural America.
We ought to be encouraging beginning farmers and ranchers, preparing them to be our next generation of family farmers.
The proposed rules would also expand restrictions on what duties teenagers can perform on farms.
Under these new rules, nearly all animal operations would be off limits until a young person reaches 16 years of age. That’s a sad day, a missed opportunity and the loss of an opportunity to learn.
I’m calling on the Department of Labor to withdraw this proposal, as it applies to family farm agriculture, and allow this country’s youth to learn a solid work ethic. The common sense that goes with that work ethic is critically important.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.