WASHINGTON – The Obama Administration has decided to drop a proposed rule on child farm labor that proved to be intensely unpopular in rural America.

WASHINGTON – The Obama Administration has decided to drop a proposed rule on child farm labor that proved to be intensely unpopular in rural America.

The Labor Department had proposed restricting the types of hazardous work that children under 16 could do on farms including driving tractors and working in grain bins.

The agency received thousands of complaints from farmers across the United States including Arkansas, who worried that it would hurt small family-owned farms.

Keith Kilbourn, a vocational agriculture teacher at Green Forest High School in northern Arkansas, was one of those who formally complained.

“Many farmers would be without useful student employees that they have counted on for many years,” he wrote.

Josh Keener, a dentist and third generation farmer in Boone County, said that growing up on a farm gave him a strong work ethic and critical thinking skills. He wants the same for his sons.

“If regulations prohibit young people from being involved on the farm, how will they learn these skills?” Keener asked.

The proposed rule also drew harsh criticism in Congress where lawmakers from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Iowa are seeking legislation to block such farm labor restrictions.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, issued press statements applauding the Labor Department’s decision to drop the proposed rule.

“It’s good the Labor Department rethought the ridiculous regulations it was going to stick on farmers and their families. It would have been devastating to farm families across the country,” Grassley said.

Boozman said the rule lacked commonsense and would have gone as far as stripping groups like 4-H and Future Farmers of America from being able to offer agriculture safety training.

“My daughters are among the millions of Americans who have participated in 4-H and greatly benefitted from that experience,” he said.

Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, and Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, introduced legislation last month to block the rule that drew 82 co-sponsors including: Crawford, and Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Tom Cole, R-Moore, and James Lankford, R-Edmond.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.Dak., introduced a companion bill in the Senate that is co-sponsored by Grassley, Boozman and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Boren said he was pleased that the Obama Administration decided to abandon its “flawed rule.”

“In the future, I strongly urge the Department of Labor to work collaboratively with rural stake holders, such as farmers and ranchers, on issues that affect their communities,” Boren said.

Not everyone in Congress was pleased that the rule was withdrawn.

“I am disappointed that the administration chose to walk away from regulations that were, at their core, about protecting children and which could have been revised to correct some of the initial proposals that generated the most concern,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

Harkin said that the regulations have not been updated in 40 years and much has been learned about farm safety since then.

Sally Greenberg, co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition, said she was deeply disappointed with the decision to withdraw the rule.

“Agriculture is by far the most dangerous industry that large numbers of teens are allowed to work in,” said Greenberg. “Nearly 100 kids are killed performing hazardous farm work each year.”

Greenberg noted that two Oklahoma 17-year-olds – Tyler Zander and Bryce Gannon – each lost a leg in a grain auger accident last August.

The two high school seniors were working at Zaloudeck Grain Co., in Kremlin, Okla, when they fell into a large floor grain auger, according to local news reports.

“This accident would have been prevented by the proposed rules,” she said.

Moving forward, the Labor Department said it would work with 4-H, the National Farmers Union and other rural groups to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young farm workers.