The days of teens getting a summer job on a neighbor's farm could be coming to an end.
In September, the Labor Department announced it was updating the work rules for those younger than 18 getting jobs on farms. It was the first such update in 40 years, and it has created a corn crib full of consternation and criticism from farm owners across the country because it prohibits minors from doing many farm jobs.
The regulations, which are expected to be finalized this summer, bar minors from working with animals, handling pesticides, and working in timber operations, manure pits and storage bins. Those younger than 16 could not work in the cultivation, harvesting or curing of tobacco or operate almost all power-driven farm equipment.
Among the places considered too dangerous for minors are grain elevators, grain bins, silos, stockyards and livestock exchanges. They could be allowed to drive certain farm devices and tractors with training and if the equipment has proper rollover protection and seat belts.
After receiving more than 10,000 comments on the proposed changes, the Labor Department announced in February it would reinstate the parental exemption for youths working on their parents' farms. The department still is writing and reviewing that change. Meanwhile, farmers are concerned what it will mean for them and for the youths who got summer jobs to earn money for college and other activities.
"It's a big concern to us in the farm community," said LuAnn Troxel, of Hanna. "Although well intentioned, they don't realize the unintended consequences. No one wants to see a child get hurt. If I thought the rule would prevent accidents, I wouldn't feel so bad."
Troxel's husband, Tom, is a veterinarian, and she said the rules would bar minors from helping him vaccinate or dehorn the animals on their dairy farm. Teens couldn't even help with bringing in wagon loads of hay because they couldn't be more than six feet above the ground, she said.
"We hear today that people don't know how to work, but I had wonderful experiences with kids from the community," LuAnn Troxel said. "They milk the cows, feed them, (operate) the Bobcat (utility machine). We've awarded scholarships to some, and some stay in touch and say it was a wonderful experience. We don't want to rob society of those opportunities.
"You need experience in these things whether you are 13 or 18 as long as you have someone who is experienced to teach you and tell you what to watch out for. I've seen people who are 20 operating a car that I don't want operating the Bobcat. You have to make judgment calls all your life, and it's no different on a farm.
She said "nonfarm" teens will lose out on having a variety of experiences.
"They can't even be around milking equipment because it is too dangerous," she said of younger workers. "It's different when you have the government defining all the minutia of what happens. If the rule goes forward and we hire kids and something happens, will our insurance company cover it? I see a lot of far-reaching effects."
Kristine Reed, of Crown Point, said she agrees with the need to safeguard teens who work on farms but said farm work is an excellent way to teach teens responsibility, time management and a strong work ethic.
She and her husband, Tom, own a small farm near Crown Point. Although they do not hire teens to work on their farm, Reed recognizes the importance of putting teens to work.
"Everyone needs a job," she said "And kids need to earn money for college."