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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Does passing down the farm also include passing down the blood, sweat, and tears?


One of the more volatile rural issues in recent years was the 2012 attempt by the Department of Labor to create rules about what work youngsters can and cannot do on the farm.  When there was a great concern expressed about youth being raised on a farm being prevented from doing typical farm labor and chores, the Department of Labor backtracked on the issue but left some of the questions unanswered.  As we shift into high gear for another summer on the farm, many farmers may have questions about who can do what, without the risk of labor law violations.  We have some answers for your questions.


Many of today’s farmers were raised with a weed hook in one hand and a bale hook in the other.  Many have holes and scars on legs from those and other important tools, but they wonder if passing down the farm also includes passing down the blood, sweat, and tears. Peggy Hall and Catharine Daniels, agricultural law specialists with Ohio State University offer their analysis of federal laws that address the age of youth working on the farm, the relationship with the farm operator, and the danger level of the work involved.  With the need and tradition of employing youth for summer farm labor, many farmers will wonder what their own children can legally do, compared to one of their schoolmates who was hired to also work during the summer.


Hall and Daniels suggest establishing the relationship of the minor to the farm operator, then allowing the age of the youngster help determine what work can be accomplished.  If the minor is the natural child or grandchild of the operator, any type of work can be performed, even that which is considered hazardous.  That also includes any minors who might be on the farm where the operator is their legal guardian.


They say where there is no familial or legal relationship, the type of work to be assigned depends on the age of the youngster.  They say:

  • 16 and 17 year olds – May perform any type of farm job including agricultural jobs considered hazardous.
  • 14 and 15 year olds – May not perform any job listed as hazardous unless the child holds a 4-H or vocational agriculture certificate of completion for tractor operation or machine operation and the employer keeps a copy of the certificate on file with the minor employee’s record.
  • 12 and 13 year olds – May not  perform any job listed as hazardous; may only perform non-hazardous jobs if with written consent for employment from a parent or guardian or if the child is working on a farm that also employs the child’s parent or guardian.
  • 11 year olds and younger – May not perform hazardous jobs.  May only perform non-hazardous farm work if a parent or guardian gives written consent and if the child will be working on a farm where employees are exempt from minimum wage requirements.

Since many chores on the farm might be considered hazardous to some, but not to others, Hall and Daniels provide some guidance.  The following can be accomplished by any child in a parental or guardian relationship with the farm operator, but non-related youth need to be a minimum of 16 to work at the following:

  1. Operating a tractor with more than 20 PTO horsepower, including hitching it to any equipment.
  2. Operating or assisting with combines and other powered equipment.
  3. Working in a pen or stall in which an animal might be agitated by anyone present
  4. Working with timber and logs of more than 6 inch diameter.
  5. Working from a ladder or scaffold either repairing/painting, or working with fruit trees.
  6. Driving a vehicle which carries co-workers.
  7. Working in an environment that is deficient in oxygen.
  8. Handling crop protection chemicals
  9. Handling explosives.
  10. Handling, transporting, or applying anhydrous ammonia.

Violations could be subject to both state and federal laws, should injuries or other tragedies occur, along with fines and confinement.  To assure compliance, verify the age of the youngster and keep documentation.  Know what tasks are considered to be hazardous. Remember that a child or grandchild can do certain chores that are unlawful for a nephew of the same age to perform.  Review safety practices with youngsters.



Farms are great places for youth to learn about life, work ethic, and many other positive attributes of adulthood.  However, current labor laws give different consideration of what tasks can be accomplished, depending on the age of the youngster and their relationship to the farm operator.  There are a wide number of tasks on the farm that need to be accomplished and each will have a place on the hazardous list, which may or may not be performed by all youth.

Posted by Stu Ellis on 06/25 at 10:51 PM | Permalink

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