December 2, 2011

The Importance of having Youth in Agriculture!


Agriculture has definitely been a big part of my life. I was fortunate to be able to grow up and work on my family’s farm operation located in central Nebraska. Because of this, I was able to learn how our food was produced and also learn the meaning of hard work. I learned that farming and ranching is no easy task and that it takes patience, passion, and dedication to do it every year. However, if I was not able to work on a farm at a young age, I would have never learned these things, and most importantly, I may not even have an interest in agriculture. Luckily, I did have that opportunity, just like many other youth who work on farms. Unfortunately, not everyone understands these lessons that can be learned from working on a farm or ranch.

Most of us have already heard that the Department of Labor (DOL) is looking at proposing new regulations that would prohibit youth from performing normal tasks on a farm or ranch. Those tasks being prohibited include working with livestock, operating equipment, and even operating certain power tools. These new regulations would even prohibit youth from working for other farmers, even if they are relatives. Youth would only be allowed to work for farms that are operated by their parents and are NOT incorporated farms. In today’s world, almost all family farms are incorporated because of certain incentives they receive. While I don’t disagree that safety for our youth who work on a farm or ranch is very important, I do disagree with the DOL on the fact that what they are imposing not only reduces job opportunities for youth in rural places, it also limits the life experiences they can gain from working on a farm or ranch. Our youth that work on farms and ranches are able to learn where their food comes from and also the true meaning of hard work. It also allows them to have a job at a young age. Most places don’t hire people under the age of sixteen; so the job opportunities for those under the age of sixteen are very limited. Fortunately, agriculture is a place for youth to work and as I mentioned before, a place where youth can earn money while gaining life experiences at the same time.

While we can sit here and say that youth need agriculture, we also need to remember that agriculture needs youth too! Every year, we find the average age of farmers and ranchers increasing, showing that many of our younger generations are not returning to the farms or ranches, and instead are pursuing other career opportunities outside the agriculture industry. By having youth work on farms and ranches we are able to train the people who will eventually be in charge of feeding our growing world population. Let us not forget that it is predicted by 2050 that our world population will reach 9 billion people! In order to feed this growing population, we are going to need younger generations to be involved in agriculture and if we start limiting their opportunities now, how will we ever be able to get them to return to this great industry in the future? There is no doubt that agriculture needs youth working in this industry, but at the same time we do need to make sure that our youth are working in the safest conditions. However, just from my experience from working on a farm at a young age, I never felt like I was put in unsafe conditions. I was working with livestock at a young age and started driving tractors on my own at the age of thirteen. Although I say “on my own”, I was still being supervised by my father, or if I was working for someone else, they made sure I was safe.

As I mentioned in the opening, I gained many life experiences from working on a farm at a young age and also found the industry I want to be involved in. There is no doubt that agriculture provides many opportunities for youth, such as being able to make money at a young age while also gain experiences that can benefit them down the road. Most importantly, those that are young and work on a farm or ranch gain the true meaning of hard work, and that shows as they get older. Many employers not only in the agriculture industry, but other industries understand that youth with an agriculture background, whether growing up on a farm or working on farm, understand the true meaning of hard work. But, as I mentioned before, agriculture also needs youth so that we can insure that our industry will have the labor supply it needs to feed our growing population. So I ask this last, but important question for the Department of Labor: Why do we want to start limiting the opportunities available that our future generations have when it comes to finding jobs at young ages and gaining life experiences?

Although the comment period deadline has passed, I encourage you to still contact your U.S. Senator or Representative! We need to insure that agriculture continues to provide opportunities for youth so that way we can insure that agriculture has a bright future!

You can also learn more about these new regulations by visiting the National Corn Growers Association website!

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