Photo by George Lauby
Drive down nearly any Nebraska country road and you will see bushels of examples of our farmers’ hard work coming to fruition.Clean cut wheat fields mark the near end of a bountiful harvest, and rows of towering corn point to a sky-high yield this fall. But any farmer will tell you that their hard work does not end at harvest.
There’s also the drying and storing of grains as farmers prepare to meet the growing demand of livestock feeders, ethanol plants and food manufacturers throughout the year. It’s an important part of a strong agriculture economy, and a central part of the farming operation.
I’m happy that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) formally recognized this reality last week.
Since 1976, OSHA has been prohibited by law from regulating farms with 10 or fewer employees — farms like many family operations in Nebraska. But in 2011, despite this longstanding policy, OSHA surprised one small Holt County farm by showing up and issuing a number of fines totaling roughly $132,000.
Their reasoning: grain storage and other postharvest activities do not count as farming activities, and therefore are not covered under the Congressional exemption.
Of course, OSHA’s claim was about as absurd as a trying to get milk from a bull. Grain bins and family farms have gone together like county fairs and 4-H for generations.
When this was brought to my attention, I was disturbed to learn of yet another demonstration of this Administration’s reckless regulatory agenda. This circumvention of the law could have led OSHA inspectors to just about any farm in Nebraska.
Because of this alarming possibility, I led a bipartisan group of 42 senators in calling on OSHA to immediately halt their unlawful regulation on small farms. I also introduced language in a government funding bill earlier this year directing OSHA to follow the 3-decades-old small farm exemption.
The language called on OSHA to work with Congress, the Department of Agriculture and ag organizations so that they could better understand what activities are integral to farming operations and should be exempt from OSHA regulations.
OSHA later announced that it had dropped all the fines against the Holt County farm. Just last week, OSHA revised its guidance, clarifying that post-harvest activities like grain storage, drying and fumigating are, in fact, part of farming and exempt from OSHA regulations on small farms.
OSHA further directed its inspectors to check with its headquarters before stepping foot on a farm if there was any uncertainty about the application of the small farms exemption.
I applaud OSHA’s decision to listen to the concerns of the ag community and step back in line with the law. I hope other federal agencies take note.
Time and again, this Administration, with its overreaching regulatory agenda, has demonstrated a lack of understanding or concern for the burdens it imposes on Americans across the nation. I will continue to pressure federal agencies to reverse their history of backdoor rulemaking.
Mike Johanns is the senior U.S. Senator from Nebraska, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and former governor of Nebraska.