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Kids on farms

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The Labor Department is right to drop the onerous new rules that would have limited the participation of young people on America’s farms.

Promoting safety in agriculture is important and an ongoing emphasis within the industry.

But to prohibit children younger than 16 from driving tractors and performing other tasks on family farms flies in the face of tradition. Young people have always been part of the work force on America’s farms. That is one way the knowledge of farming is passed on from generation to generation.

When the department came up with the new regulations, there was an outcry. The administration responded by saying it would exempt children working on their parents’ farms.

But that left out young people employed on farms owned by uncles, grandparents and other relatives. The federal initiative would have complicated life and work on many farm operations. It also would have limited opportunities for young people to learn about many aspects of farming by taking part in them.

Farmers in New York and throughout the country and their representatives objected strongly to the proposed rules.

Republicans were vocal about the new regulations. But so was Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a grain farmer who fought the proposed changes. Sen. Tester said he would fight “any measure that threatens that heritage and our rural way of life.”

Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, also fought. “This is an example of a bad regulation with a good intention,” he said. “The department was not in touch with what was happening on the ground.”

The Labor Department said it will work with the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union and 4-H to create an educational program to emphasize safety and reduce accidents for young workers.

That is a worthy plan.

People in Northern New York and across the country objected to the new farm regulations. The Obama administration listened to the objections being raised and changed course. That is a good thing. The original proposal was unreasonable and unworkable.

Sometimes grass-roots response makes a difference.

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