Rep. Wilson Stone: Trust tobacco farm families to protect their own children

June 2, 2014 

  • At issue: May 15 Herald-Leader article, "Group calls for laws to prohibit children working with burley"

For those of us lucky enough to grow up on a farm, few memories are more cherished than working out in the field or in the barn lot.

That's not to say we always enjoyed our chores, but the lessons we learned then seem even more important now. It's a way of life that I wish more of today's younger generations could experience.

That thought came to mind earlier this month when I read stories about a New York-based organization calling for the federal government to bar anyone under 18 from having a role in handling tobacco.

As chairman of the Kentucky House of Representatives' Tobacco Task Force, I certainly favor taking all of the necessary precautions to protect anyone involved in farming.

These steps are a key reason why we have made tremendous strides in recent years in farm safety.

At the same time, I think this report's recommendations go too far. If implemented, they could further undermine the future of the family farm and put another unnecessary obstacle in front of parents who want nothing more than to pass on what they have learned to their children.

Understandably, this issue was a major point of discussion at our most recent task force meeting, and some of the comments made then are worth considering.

First, tobacco farming continues to require a considerable amount of labor, from setting the seedlings to getting the harvested crop to the buyers.

Much of this work is now done by properly screened migrant workers, especially as growing becomes more consolidated, but there are still many instances where teenagers are either helping their families or are working in tobacco as a part-time job.

The need for their help is unlikely to change anytime soon, given that Kentucky remains a worldwide leader in tobacco production. With guidance from local and state agricultural officials, farmers have a much better understanding of the risks of such things as green tobacco sickness and how to avoid them.

Cultivating this firsthand knowledge is where our focus should be.

I believe the Kentucky Farm Bureau had the right response to the report when its leaders wrote that, "It is difficult to believe that any parents — and especially a Kentucky farm family — would risk the safety or health of their own children by setting them to a task that they are not properly trained to execute or place them in harm's way."

That's common sense, and that's why I don't think we need the over-reaching rules the report recommends. I trust our farm families to make the right decision for their children.

Rep. Wilson Stone of Scottsville represents the 22nd District.

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