On ranchers’ big push to end the rule change…

“Many people were concerned about this but (ranchers) were very exercised. I didn’t keep good statistics but it appeared that the preponderance of really good letters to editors, really good interviews in small hometown newspapers, tended to revolve around livestock.

“I think the reason for that is there were 13 so-called ‘hazardous operations’ listed (by DOL) that youth would have been virtually prohibited from working on. While a number of those involved equipment that cut across all farms, they were harder to understand…

“The ones that really had an impact, ones that were really in your face, were those like no dealing with animals in a way that could cause pain -- dehorning, docking tails, anything like that. The rules would have even prevented the herding of chickens. They would have prevented children from handling any sexually-intact animals over six months in age.

“Those restrictions would have virtually taken youths out of F-H, FFA and livestock showing and handling. I think that’s why this really raised the hackles of those who own horses, the dairy producers, pork and cattle.

“There was a huge group of organizations – probably 40 or so – that conference-called regularly. We were sharing written comments back-and-forth.

“Probably, the groups that added the most flesh to our comments were up to a dozen state Farm Bureaus. Some of the people from those really understood the issues well and did some very good writing that many of us used. They kept it up throughout.”

Shortly prior to the DOL’s backing down on the new rule, the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) released a study showing a decrease in youth farm accidents. NASS found that “agriculture-related injuries to youth under 20 years of age on United States farms have decreased from 13.5 injuries per 1,000 farms in 2001 to 7.2 injuries per 1,000 farms in 2009. … An injury was defined as any condition occurring on the farm operation resulting in at least four hours of restricted activity or requiring professional medical attention.”

For more, see here.

Your reaction to the study? Do you suspect that was the final nail in the proposed rule’s coffin?

“I don’t know that for sure, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

“We’d already seen bits and pieces of those numbers from the ag-safety experts at universities. For example, the injury rate in youth working agriculture had been cut more than half in five years.

“But it was a nice coincidence that study was released (when it was). I can’t say for sure it had an impact (with DOL) but it certainly didn’t hurt.”

On the need for farm safety…

“Accidents and injuries usually result from poor training or preparation, inexperience, haste or fatigue.

“Well, on a farm, you have to do everything. Often, you must be in a hurry because things are seasonal. It’s routine to push yourself beyond what a paid employee in a factory would. That’s because it’s your operation – if you don’t do it, it won’t get done.

“Everyone in agriculture should keep at the front of their minds to do everything possible to create a culture of safety around farms. We could make a lot of progress on that and do much better than we have.”

On the DOL’s plan to work on farm safety through agriculture groups in lieu of the proposed rules…

“The DOL says it will now engage in a stakeholder outreach (on safety).

“It might have taken some time, but if DOL’s goal was results (in safety), the best way to do that was a stakeholder outreach begun a decade ago. You know, pull in growers, leading grower groups and maybe some equipment companies. If the people who are actually doing the work – and whose kids are doing the work – had been involved, I think we’d be in a much better place (already).”

Details on the outreach are yet to be released. Gasparini, who has been involved with such things in the past, “hopes the outreach is very broad. … They aren’t always easy and can be a lot of work. There has to be give-and-take and egos must be checked. In the end, though, some really good guidelines or rules are produced.”

On the latest regarding H-2A/H-2B farm labor programs and E-Verify…

Some in Congress “would still love to pass mandatory E-Verify. It’s still the law in several states and South Carolina will join them very soon.

“The U.S. Supreme Court is still discussing the constitutionality of certain pieces of the Arizona law. If it upholds that later this summer, we expect more states to move very quickly.

“At the federal level, E-Verify is stalled with leadership. Agriculture is telling them ‘we can’t support this unless we have a workable program to both make our current workforce legal, somehow, and have a future flow of non-immigrant workers.

“H-2A remains very difficult with a lot of delays. Nearly everyone who uses H-2A employees is audited. But that program still provides less than 5 percent of the workers.

“Even a better H-2A program is not a solution for mandatory E-Verify. We need more than that. We need a way to keep our existing workers.

“As for H-2B, a judge in Florida issued a temporary injunction (the last week of April) against implementation of the H-2B rule. She will likely rule sometime over the summer on whether that injunction will become permanent. H-2B users will operate under the old law at least through the rest of this season and into 2013.”

For more on farm labor, see here.