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Farmer’s Hands 2012 Missouri Farm Bureau Video Contest Winner

Check out one of the winners of Missouri Farm Bureau’s state video contest. The winners were announced at the 84th Missouri FFA Convention in Columbia, Mo. this week. This video was created by the Walnut Grove FFA Chapter.

I love all of the awesome facts they incorporated into the video, some of which I had heard before, and others that were new to me.

I spent the convention working in a basement room behind the Missouri FFA Convention stage. The people in that room worked incredibly hard, volunteering their time and effort to get the news out to the public. Each story that passed my desk as one of the editors (and there were over 400 press releases written and edited in that room) represented at least one big and exciting success of an FFA member, advisor, or supporter. My big and exciting success was practically running across the stage, one of over 700 people in blue jackets who were raised to the highest award/degree a state association can bestow on an FFA member – the state degree. I am the proud owner of a brand-new, shiny gold, emblem-shaped nerd medal!

Plant Goals, Harvest Success!

Oh State FFA Convention…. This coming week, hundreds (probably more like thousands) of high school students in blue corduroy jackets will converge on the Mizzou campus for an event they’ve been preparing for all year. Many will compete as state-qualifying teams and speakers in career development events (like Entomology, Dairy Foods, Meats, Soils, Floriculture, and other judging contests), and leadership events (speaking, Parliamentary Procedure, Knowledge, Sales, etc). Some will grace the stage as winners – of contests, awards, and degrees. Others will perform as talent entries or chorus members. This year’s leadership sessions will focus on this theme: Plant Goals, Harvest Success.

These two days of intense competition, inspiring speakers, leadership developments, and memories made are a celebration of agriculture in Missouri. These students are members of an organization that values and promotes our nation’s most vital industry – food and fiber production. Will all of them grow up to be farmers? Far from it. Many will go on to careers that are a far cry from a wheat field or a ranch – but even if their futures don’t become intimately linked with agriculture, they learn enough about the industry to speak up, vote smart, and spread the word – agriculture has a bright future, and we’re growing strong leaders for the winding road ahead.

This week, I’ll be spending most of my State FFA Convention in a room filled with computers and busy college students, typing away. It’s our job to record all of the awesome and exciting things that happen during convention to send to home chapters, newspapers and other media. The press room at convention will be hectic – but I think it’ll be a lot of fun. After all, this is part of what I can see myself doing with my life – telling the stories of the people of agriculture (or buying tan pants and a blue blazer – if girls even do that – and taking my own group of high schoolers to state contest). Talk about exciting!

Farm Out Loud!

An Agricultural Perspective on the Child Labor Law Changes

It was speech time again this week! We’ve been working for a while (too long in my opinion) on our persuasive speeches. My class covered everything from Study Away to the existence (or lack thereof) of time and space as we perceive and measure it. I chose a topic that I’ve written about on Farm Out Loud before – the Department of Labor‘s proposed changes to Ag H.O.s.

I gave the speech today, and while I haven’t taken the time yet to analyze the video that was taken during its presentation, I decided it wouldn’t hurt anything to share it – maybe someone who doesn’t like to read will listen to it (and that is what I would suggest – listen, I don’t know what you’ll see if you watch.) 🙂 I hope you enjoy it – mistakes and all!

For those of you who do like to read, the transcript of my speech is below the video.

A New Mindset for Child Labor

When we hear the phrase “child labor,” almost all of us get the same mental image

We see photos from history books of immigrant children in the United States or sweatshops abroad working among dangerous machines for little pay.

I’m Laura Wolf, an agriculture student at Missouri State University, and my topic today is child labor, but it isn’t what you think.

When I say “child labor,” high school vocational classes probably aren’t what come to mind.

Today, I’d like to show you my mindset about child labor by explaining proposed changes, their effects on vocational education, and its effects on me as a representative of the effected group.

First, let’s look at changes proposed September 2011.

The U.S. Department of Labor issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to amend the child labor in agriculture regulations in 2011. Their goal was to make the rules for agriculture more like those for non-agriculture industries. According to Garrett Hawkins, an expert on the subject and legislative liason for Missouri Farm Bureau in 2012, the U.S. Secretary of Labor is using this proposal to take care of a problem prevalent in her home state of California – the children of migrant workers becoming a liability in orchards.

The changes don’t just apply to migrant workers, though – they are for all workers in the U.S. under the age of 16.

Here are a few examples from a handout written by Nurse Mary E. Miller for a rural and agricultural health center in Washington in 2011 outlining the differences between the existing and proposed rules. It sounds a bit – well, a lot – like legal jargon, so I’ll keep it short.
1. “Reduces maximum height at which youth under age 16 can work at elevation from 20 feet to 6 feet, including work on ladders.”
2. “Expand prohibitions from lists of specific machines to all power-driven equipment.”
3. “Prohibit engaging or assisting in…practices that inflict pain upon the animal…such as vaccinating and treating sick or injured animals.”

Imagine that you’re a legislator and one of your people has briefed you on these changes – what do you say?
It sounds good, and it’s needed… right? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 40,000 agricultural workers were injured on the job in 2011, out of a total of 967,800.  Given this information, my guess is that you’d think, “Yep, check, let’s move on to the real issues,” which could be exactly where many actual legislators are right now.

Now that we know the basics of the proposal, let’s take a look at how schools could be affected by it.

When vocational and agricultural educators came across the same legal jargon I read to you earlier, they heard something different – a threat. The maximum height rule means that students working for area farmers can stand in a hayloft, but would be legally unable to assist in retrieving hay from the loft until they were 16. The power-driven equipment rule means that landscaping classes couldn’t use certain tools to landscape, and construction classes couldn’t use many necessary tools to construct. The rule I read about animals would keep students from exploring and gaining valuable experience in the field of veterinary science until their junior year when the career crunch is on.

When Heath Wright, the agriculture teacher at Ozark High School, heard about the proposal, he could feel his students’ opportunities shrinking instead of stretching. According to a Springfield News-Leader article March 6, 2012, the high school is in the process of building a school farm to add to other hands-on experience with local farmers and in greenhouse and welding shop classes. Hands-on work experience is important – in a survey I conducted March 9, over half of you mentioned work ethic or responsibility as benefits of holding a job as a student. If the opportunities are more restricted for work in high school, it follows that fewer students will choose to hold a job and develop those traits.

Do you remember the statistic I told you earlier? Imagine what might happen if fewer of those workers had been trained for more than a few weeks because of the new rules. It could be that accidents and injuries would increase instead of decrease. Another increase we wouldn’t want is in the strain on our pocketbooks – food prices may rise because of an even more limited number of willing and able agricultural workers, resulting in produce scarcity.

We’ve heard a little about the changes and how educators feel about them. Now I’d like to tell you a short story about my reactions.

As a farmer’s daughter, future teacher and advocate, and vocational agriculture student, the proposal would have a significant effect on me. I decided in 7th grade Ag Expo that I’d be in FFA – an agricultural organization – in high school. Our class project was building flower boxes using circular saws, drills, and other tools under the supervision of our teacher. First, we had to pass a safety test with a 100% as part of the Ag. H.O. student learner exemption. No one got hurt, and we learned a lot about basic safety precautions for a shop setting.

For FFA, I was required to hold a job and keep records for a supervised agricultural experience project. I chose to mow lawns and crop scout for my dad. Under the proposed rules, those two jobs would have been illegal until I was a junior. The rules prohibit the operation of power-driven equipment, which includes lawn mowers. They also eliminate the usual exemptions for students working for parents if the company is incorporated – my dad partially owns Brauer Farms, L.L.C.

Now that you’re more aware of the U.S. Department of Labor’s proposed changes and their potential harmful effects, I have a challenge for you. Keep those history book pictures of child labor from clouding your vision and help others to do the same. Spend a few minutes on Google learning more about new developments. When you find an article that makes a great argument, share it on Facebook. Then take a step further – contact your congressmen to explain what you’ve learned and where you stand.

Instead of doing something wrong that sounds right, show your government that you expect the right thing to be done, even when it sounds wrong.

Farm Out Loud!

Agriculture Education and the Department of Labor – an epic battle?

I recently took a poll of my public speaking class to get a feel for what my audience would know about my upcoming persuasive speech topic. Out of 18 students polled, all from the Honors College at MSU, only 2 had heard of the proposed changes to child labor regulations that could severely limit family farms and educational opportunities for agriculture students.

 

 

Today, my Agriculture Leaders class heard from the Missouri Farm Bureau National Legislative Programs Director Garrett Hawkins, a graduate of Missouri State. During his visit, Garrett answered some of our questions about the changes and Farm Bureau’s stance and actions regarding the measure. He shared with us that Farm Bureau, like every agriculture entity he has heard from, is strongly opposed to the changes as they are currently written. While no one would argue that safety wouldn’t come first when it comes to high school students working with animals, farm equipment, and so on, the changes would take away valuable education tools for teaching safety.

In case you’re still wondering what changes have been made, I strongly suggest researching this topic so that you can make your own call. However, here’s a quick overview. Before occupying her current position, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis backed an initiative in California that called for strict regulations for the children of migrant workers who worked with their parents in the fields. This, of course, crossed not only labor issues, but also differences in culture – and did not pass. When she became labor secretary in 2009, she continued to fight the same fight on a grander scale.

The changes are a combination of the issues Solis wanted addressed, as well as a number of sweeping rules and changes that would apply to all US teens – including removal of student learner exemptions, as well as the ban of certain kinds of work for students age 13-16, which includes work with animals, in hog & poultry barns, and machinery (defined as anything powered by an engine, meaning mowing the lawn is out), unless they were volunteering or working directly for a parent or guardian whose operation had not been incorporated.

I say all that to say this: the proposed changes are a major deal. If you caught what I did in that list, you’d notice that the Department of Labor is trying to kill the traditional FFA SAE Project, as well as other activities for students in FFA and 4-H programs. The changes also threaten multi-generational farms where children and grandchildren learn safety and agriculture through work. Doing away with these opportunities for children to learn safety in a supervised environment is not protecting children – it’s exposing them to undue risk of harm.

Right now, these changes are being proposed yet again (they’ve been proposed before, causing passionate backlash from the agriculture community). The goal as I understand it is to push the changes into law by the end of the summer. Why? If our current president is not re-elected this November, the new president will have the right to go back through all laws passed during a certain time period before the office changed hands. The people (and activist groups) backing the labor law changes want the proposed changes signed into law before the window for review opens.

This means the agriculture community has a lot of work to do. Maybe you can help me spread the news about the changes. Maybe you’ll see fit to call or write your congressman and let them know what these changes really mean, and why they should oppose them.

Farm Out Loud!