Rep. Noem: Standing tall for family farms

Farm Forum

Often times when I talk with folks in Washington about farming, they still picture a tanned man in a straw hat and flannel shirt perched atop a small, cab-less tractor. Sure, there are still animals to feed, cows to be milked, and dusty fields to work in. We still wake up early and spend the day doing hard labor. But the industry has changed since then. I love being able to share what it’s like to be a producer today and stand tall when I say that I too was a farmer.

The modern day farmer and rancher is a jack-of-all-trades. We’re chemists and IT specialists. We need to know about marketing, business, and mechanics. We invent. We innovate. We modernize. And we are subject to a litany of government regulations – many written by those who have never dropped a digger into the ground.

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Labor handed down a new proposal that would have undermined traditional family agriculture. Many South Dakotans hire their nieces or nephews to help out during the summer, but these requirements would have put new limits on what they could do. Safety on farms and ranches is imperative, but we need to have a commonsense approach to how we address the issue.

I joined other Members of Congress from rural areas to put pressure on the Department of Labor and by the end of April 2012, the Department of Labor withdrew the proposal.

This situation is not an anomaly.

A few years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced they wanted to regulate dust to the point that it would have been hard for farmers to dig their fields unless it had rained that week. In response, I introduced the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act, which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the administration reversed course.

Then, in late 2013, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigators walked onto a small Nebraska farm. The investigators said the farm willfully violated OSHA regulations, including a rule on the proper gear to wear when entering a grain bin, and levied against this family a $132,000 fine.

Since 1976, Congress has banned OSHA from regulating farming operations with 10 or fewer employees. However, in 2011, OSHA quietly issued a memo indicating the Agency would now have the authority to regulate “post-harvest” activities on family farms. These post-harvest activities include storage, fumigation and drying.

OSHA doesn’t belong on family farms, and the law clearly states that. Small operations have a strong vested and personal interest in keeping their operations safe and viable. They don’t need to be threatened with more regulatory oversight to make sure they’re operating in a way that keeps their family safe.

I once again put pressure on the administration to reverse course and earlier this month, the Department of Labor announced they would withdraw the memo and keep OSHA investigators off our family farms.

I’m proud to stand up every day in support of family farms. I’m proud to explain what the industry is – and isn’t – and to keep unnecessary regulations away from farming and ranching operations. Most of all, I’m proud to represent a state whose economy is still rooted in the women and men who feed the animals, milk the cows, and work in the dusty fields – who wake up early and spend the day doing hard labor – who call themselves farmers and feed the world.