Many of my classmates who lived on farms back in the 1960s were driving tractors well before I was. I was allowed to milk cows, but not drive tractors until I was about high school age. The reason was understandable: my mother was nearly killed in a tractor run-over accident before I was born, and she was extra-protective about her children working around machinery. She didn't mind us milking cows, which I started at a young age, in a three-stall parlor. If someone she knew had been severely kicked by a cow, that might have been different too.
Many farm kids through the years have operated tractors and combines well before they received a driver's license. That likely won't change, but public comments were recently taken on regulations that could affect how children are allowed to work on farms, especially if they are being employed by other farmers or ag operations. A horrific tragedy in Illinois where two young boys perished inside a grain bin working for a commercial elevator sparked attention to this matter, and set off the latest round of debate about how young children should be before they can be employed in certain dangerous activities. After all, the USDA Labor Department still ranks farming and ag activities as the second most dangerous occupation in the country behind mining.
Already existing are regulations about hiring young people to work on a farm which is not their home farm. Youth are supposed to be certified for employment on farms, notes Bill Field, Purdue University farm safety specialist. Employers who hire kids younger than the allowable age could be subject to fines.A Youth Farm Safety Education and Certification Program exist, although far too few kids and families take advantage of the program. You can learn more about possible training opportunities at: www.agsafety4youth.info. You can also call 866-276-1049 or email: [email protected].