Oct. 24 2011 07:06 AM

If you disagree with U.S. Labor, submit comments by November 1.

Update: Now Thursday, December 1

At first glance, the U.S. Department of Labor's (USDOL) proposed updates to child labor laws appear harmless. But, as is the case with most government regulations, the devil is in the details.

Last month, the USDOL released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that could have profound implications for family farms that are partnerships or corporations. The rules are designed to protect employed child labor. However, the regulations also cover young people who are not receiving a paycheck but are performing tasks on other people's farms, including those owned by an uncle or aunt.

That's just the beginning of the caution flags. Under the NPRM proposal, our sons or daughters who are under 16 years old would not be able to milk on our dairies if the business structure is a partnership or corporation. In the Labor Department's eyes, parents are no longer in charge of agricultural activities for their children once the farm moves from a sole proprietorship to another business structure. That is a major shift from previous standards.

Digging a little deeper, the latest proposal considers operating powered milking equipment a "hazardous occupation for youth." Ultimately, if followed to the letter of the law, it could be illegal to allow your son or daughter under age 16 to milk cows, drive a tractor, or even mow grass if your farm is a partnership or corporation. Before enacting such overbearing rules, we would suggest USDOL publish statistics documenting the need for what we believe are unwarranted rule revisions.

Even though sole proprietorships would remain exempt from USDOL's proposal, all producers should be concerned with this overreaction. As farms continue to grow, more of us will look to protect assets through various business structures. Those of us in agriculture know these entities are not faceless corporations, and it is abundantly clear that we need to remind the government of this fact. Tell them our businesses are family operations owned and managed by multiple generations. Urge USDOL to keep the parental employment exemption provided in the law for all farms.

Time is short; make your concerns known. Comments are due by November 1. Now Thursday, December 1. Updated 10/31/2011 Go to www.regulations.gov and search for USDOL's proposed rule RIN 1235-AA06. Let USDOL know dairy farms are family businesses where our children can live and work safely.