Keeping Safe Down on the Farm

As combines roll across Fall-ripened fields across the state, Iowans like me who were lucky enough to spend a childhood growing up on a farm remember the ‘good old days’ and just how much work went into bringing a crop to harvest. Riding in a combine is the ‘end game’; there were days spent shelling corn, baling hay, walking beans and spraying fence rows. Hard work and sweat, but it was an honor to chore with my dad, who didn’t always have time to listen to the endless chatter of a curious girl.

This was before Big Box stores or Burger Kings came to rural Iowa, so fast-learning, ambitious farm kids like me earned spending money walking beans, herding livestock, baling hay or unloading grain wagons. But, while I see those experiences as ‘character building,’ the big arm of the Federal Government sees something else. Something darker. Something that must be legislated out of existence.

The Department of Labor (DOL) has Proposed Rules which change the kinds of jobs kids under the age of 18 can do on the farm. The goal is something everyone can agree on: it’s important to reduce farm accidents; even one is too many. But, farmers across the nation say there is more to be lost than gained by this rule.

They have many questions. How much will it cost? Who will police this? How will they crack down on teenagers using Blackberries while their combine is on auto-steer? Will inspectors pull ranch hands off their horses in Wyoming to make sure they’re over the age of 18? Some of those kids learned to ride before they can walk, but in the eyes of the (obviously ‘city dwelling’) rule writers, they aren’t mature enough to know what they’re doing.

Those who’ve grown up on the farm agree that there are risks to farming because you live where you work. The tools to farm today are bigger, faster and more sophisticated than ever before. I mean, my dad’s ‘luxury item’ in his combine was an 8-track player which blared Johnny Cash; today’s big machines have seat belts, rollover bars, auto-steer, GPS, air conditioning, even refrigerators and XM radio capability.

I would argue the kinds of risks I remember on the farm are no greater than the kinds of risks my 14-year-old daughter faces, living here, in the heart of suburbia. For example, if we were living on the farm right now, I wouldn’t worry that some yuppie on a cell phone would blow through a stoplight and run her over, or some Gomer in a white van ( would try to kidnap her while she rode her bike down a residential street. Fast-moving traffic, distracted drivers, mall scuffles, skateboarding; there are plenty of risks for ‘city kids,’ yet there aren’t Federal inspectors pulling over 13-year-olds riding Huffy’s in West Des Moines.

Somewhere in the middle lies common sense. I’m just not sure you’ll find too many folks who believe that the Federal Government is wielding a ‘bumper crop’ of that these days.

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.