Focus On Kentucky Agriculture
The University of Kentucky Wildcat is giving its good name and image to
launch The Wildcat Way to Wellness- an initiative to bring greater health to the
Commonwealth, with a strong focus on the farm economy.
The inspiration for the program came from Janet Tietyen, specialist in
food and nutrition for the UK Cooperative Extension Service. She first thought
of it as a way to promote a healthier diet and lifestyle for Kentuckians. The
vision expanded to include a healthier agricultural economy. Referring to concerns
about the future of tobacco farming, she says, “The time is right for food and
food products to play a larger role in Kentucky agriculture.”
The Wildcat Way to Wellness is carrying on the tradition of the UK Cooperative
Extension Service. In the early 1900s, the newly created Extension Service started
sharing university research with Kentucky farmers to improve farming practices.
“Homemakers” received lessons in food preservation and nutrition. The Wildcat
Way will add visibility and new ideas to the Extension Service mission.
“There are 88,000 farms in Kentucky,” says Curtis Absher, assistant director
for agriculture and natural resources with the UK Cooperative Extension Service.
“If national trends continue as they are, that number could be drastically reduced.
“We’re a state of small-patch agriculture,” Absher adds. “We’ve got to
have a different mind-set from California-a way of identifying our product as
different from those of large commodity states. About 70 percent of people are
willing to buy products based on attributes other than cheapness. Think about
being creative-not business as usual. Identify products with Kentucky and wellness.”
As an illustration of this approach, Absher points out the successful farming
operations at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. Biltmore Estate wine, cheese,
beef, and produce are much in demand in that region.
Jim Mansfield, director of the Division for Value Added Horticulture &
Aquaculture with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, describes The Wildcat
Way to Wellness as “people coming together to make a difference.” He spoke of
efforts already launched by the Department of Agriculture to promote Kentucky
“As the grocery industry consolidates, we are seeking to label Kentucky-grown
products and ask consumers to buy local when it’s available. We believe if consumers
ask for it, stores will stock more local products. We have tours showing wholesalers
where to find Kentucky products,” Mansfield says. “As a producer, if your product
is not in supermarkets, you’re missing 80 to 90 percent of the market.”
The Wildcat Way to Wellness will offer guidance to farmers seeking markets
for their produce at the same time as it directs consumers to consider buying
locally. Janet Tietyen is planning a cookbook with nutritious recipes featuring
Kentucky produce. Information on good nutrition, fitness, and other matters concerning
healthy living will be available through Extension Service offices in all 120
Wildcat Wellness 2000 timeline
April: The Meade County Extension office makes a presentation to the Kentucky
Extension Homemakers Association. Contact the Meade County Extension office for
June: Statewide training for county Extension agents on how to make Wildcat Wellness
presentations to local groups.
Later in 2000: Publication of the cookbook The Wildcat Way to Wellness: Cooking
with Kentucky Foods.
For more information, call Janet Tietyen at (606) 257-1812, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org,
or visit the Web site of the Family and Consumer Sciences division of the UK College
of Agriculture at www.ca.uky.edu/agcollege/fcs.
Dealing with the Delicate Issue of Farm Labor
by Kathy Witt
In the shimmering heat of a cloudless August day, a crew of Mexican laborers
strips tobacco on a Kentucky farm. They are mostly men-husbands, fathers, sons,
brothers-toiling to support immediate and extended families and earning more here
than they could ever hope to at home. They are also helping Kentucky’s farm economy
remain stable and productive.
“We have to depend on the Mexican workers or we’d have to up and quit,”
says one Kentucky farmer.
Migrant labor can be a delicate subject for Kentucky’s farmers. It raises issues
about fair employment practices, the legality of Mexican migrant workers, and
the changing local labor force-all in the context of a healthy economy that is
opening up opportunities for both locals and migrants.
“It’s very touchy,” says Keenan Turner, an Extension agriculture agent
in Pulaski County. “The farmers are backed into a corner. If you, as a producer,
have a crop as significant to the farmer as burley tobacco, then you’re looking
for help to get it to market in a timely fashion. It’s hard, backbreaking, dirty
Turner notes that local workers can find work elsewhere, with better pay
and working conditions. So to get help with the tobacco crop, farmers turn to
Historical and sociological changes have had a lasting impact on the American
farm family and how work gets done on the farm. The agrarian society of old has
been replaced by an industrial economy. Family size has shrunk over the years.
The country currently enjoys prosperous economic conditions that allow more options
in employment and education.
All these factors combine to create a farming landscape in Kentucky that
today depends on a migrant labor force.
“The change in the industrial composition of the economy is key,” says
Lori Garkovich, professor of rural sociology at the College of Agriculture at
the University of Kentucky. “Farm families have always raised a part of their
own labor force, but in Kentucky-central Kentucky especially-migrant workers came
out of the mountains for tobacco production and would go home for other employment
through the rest of the year. Another labor source was high school students. In
the ’40s and ’50s and earlier, schools would let out during harvest and stripping
time. Think about that today. There are fewer farm kids-fewer kids in general.”
Garkovich notes that while labor is an important issue for any business
these days, working conditions are very different on a farm. She says, “Would
you work for x number of dollars in 90 degree temperatures from dawn until dusk
or would you rather flip burgers in air conditioning for a set amount of hours?”
Other challenges include price competition for labor, a tight labor time
frame due to the seasonal nature of farm work, and a slew of labor management
issues. Add to that list a strong manufacturing economy, and the result is a local
job market competing hard for workers.
“Farmers will be the first to tell you that there’s no way they can compete
with manufacturing companies,” says Garkovich.
With a labor force made up of Mexican workers, there are also legal issues that
must be addressed if the farmer is to stay out of trouble.
“When migrants pull up on your farm, the farmers know the paperwork they’re
to request,” says Turner. “At the same time, I’ve been on those farms when these
people pull up. I’ve seen the farmers ask for identification papers and have watched
the illegals vanish. They can find work elsewhere.”
One program geared to ensure the legality of workers and to regulate working
conditions on Kentucky farms is called H-2A and is part of the Immigration Reform
and Control Act. An employment agreement between the migrant worker and the farmer
that is governed by the U.S. Department of Labor, H-2A spells out the conditions
for migrant farm labor, including hours, wages, housing, transportation reimbursement,
meals, crops to be worked, and other issues relevant to the specific contract.
Heavy penalties are exacted from the farmer for violations.
Complying with all those rules is not easy, says Turner.
“In Pulaski County, if a farmer has a work force of four people, it’s two to three
days to cut and house an acre of tobacco and then they’re gone,” he says. Providing
living conditions under H-2A for that kind of a work force is enormously difficult
for a farmer, says Turner. He adds that the farmer “doesn’t want to do these people
wrong. He wants to treat them as nice as he can because he would like to see them
return the next year.”
Jerry Brown, agriculture agent at the Boone County Cooperative Extension
Service, notes that 95 percent of Kentucky farm work is in tobacco. Migrant workers
know the growing season and they gravitate to areas where labor is needed. Some
are U.S. citizens; most are not.
They come for the income: Mexican workers can earn more on Kentucky farms
in two to three months than they can working for two to three years at home. The
biggest problem they face, as illegal laborers, is getting caught.
“Workers tend to vanish when official cars appear,” says Brown, presenting
a whole new nightmare for the farmer. “When the workers are forced to leave, the
farmer has to get a new crew. Tobacco is a perishable crop.”
There is some hope for farmers, however, in getting their crops in while
staying on the right side of the law. According to Butch Quire, H-2A program coordinator
with the Kentucky Department of Employment Services, abiding by the regulations
of the H-2A program is not impossible and may be well worth a farmer’s time in
the long run.
“The program is complicated and it’s easy to stumble,” notes Quire, whose
office acts as a liaison between the farmer and the U.S. Department of Labor.
“But we provide the hand-holding as much as the farmers need it for the first
couple of years in getting their housing in line and meeting other requirements.”
Quire says that farmers have to exercise caution and ask a lot of questions
in any situation in which they are dealing with migrant laborers. Aspects that
are subject to H-2A regulations include what type of work the migrants are doing,
how many hours they are working, and who they are working for.
“It’s not uncommon for one farmer to use his workers to cut another farmer’s
tobacco,” says Quire. “But you can’t do that with H-2A workers unless you jump
through a few more hoops.”
Additional help should be available with the passage last fall of an H-2A streamlining
provision. The provision, written by Kentucky Republican U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell,
shortens the time a farmer has to wait for a migrant worker by 25 percent and
requires the Department of Labor to speed up the process by approving applications
65 percent faster. The change was a part of the agriculture appropriations bill
approved by Congress and signed into law this fall by President Clinton. McConnell
says the provision “will help alleviate some of the burdens farmers face when
hiring migrant workers.”
Quire admits that while the H-2A program works “decently” for larger farmers,
it can seem almost too expensive and restrictive to be practical for smaller farmers.
Four government agencies are involved, eligibility criteria can be redundant and
contradictory, and there are spools of bureaucratic red tape.
“It can be done,” Quire says. “But you have to know the guidelines and
be willing to follow through with the paperwork.”
More Info on Working with Migrant Laborers
Because of the dependence on migrant workers, the U.S. Labor Department
has created the H-2A program to regulate employment conditions. The program covers
compensation, work period, and other conditions. Farmers need to learn the program
in order to avoid penalties.
According to Butch Quire, H-2A program coordinator with the Kentucky Department
of Employment Services, the best thing farmers can do to stay on the right side
of the law in working with a migrant labor force is to fill out I-9 employment
eligibility verification forms and keep them on file for the required three years.
“Even if a worker is illegal, the I-9 form shows that the farmer made a good faith
effort to make sure his own workers are legal,” says Quire.
Contact the Kentucky Department of Employment Services in Frankfort at
(502) 564-7456 for more information about Section H-2A of the Immigration Reform
and Control Act.
Because migrant workers are such an integral part of Kentucky farming -particularly
in burley tobacco-a video, narrated in Spanish, is now available to show migrants
the step-by-step process of tobacco harvesting, from cutting through housing.
The video was produced by the College of Agriculture at the University of Kentucky
and is available for $25.20, including tax and shipping and handling. For a copy
of the video, send check or money order to the University of Kentucky, Room 19,
Scovell Hall, Lexington, KY 40546.
Farming is Risky Business
Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations. And the youngest and
the oldest farmers are especially at risk.
In Kentucky, about one-third of all agriculture-related deaths involve farmers
60 and older. Statistics also show that tractors are involved in nearly half of
all farm-related fatalities in the state.
The good news is that agriculture-related deaths in Kentucky are down 40 percent
in the last four years, from 48 in 1995 to 28 in 1998.
Still, farm accidents are out of proportion with other occupations. Agriculture-related
industries account for almost 20 percent of the occupational fatalities in Kentucky,
even though farmers make up just 3 percent of the state’s work force.
Nationally, youth under 25 and adults over age 55 are at the highest risk for
injury on the farm.
Terry Wilkinson, manager of the National Safety Council’s Agricultural
Division, says, “Agriculture is the second most hazardous industry in the nation,
with a rate of over 22 deaths per 100,000 workers, compared to mining with a death
rate of 23.3 per 100,000 workers. These statistics show an estimated 780 deaths
and 140,000 disabling injuries in agriculture in 1998.”
“Young workers are less experienced,” says Larry Piercy, agricultural and
health safety specialist for the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture.
“Then, as we get older, we may not be as attentive. Our reaction times may slow
and our hearing and vision are not as good. Those things can affect our ability
to do our job.”
A study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and
Health found that 9 percent of all deaths in agriculture are workers under 25
and that half of all deaths in farming are workers over age 55.
John Myers, NIOSH statistician, says tractor overturns, truck-related injuries,
machinery entanglements, and drowning are the leading causes of death for agricultural
workers under 25. He says tractors, trucks, mowing machines, and farm animals
are involved in the leading causes of the deaths of workers over 55.
“Tractor overturns are the most common cause of death of agricultural workers
under 25 and older workers,” Myers says. “Most of these deaths could have been
prevented if the (worker) had been operating a tractor with an approved rollover
protective structure and wearing their seat belt.”
Many initiatives already exist across the country to educate farm operators
about the risks of operating certain machinery. Training for young workers, age-appropriate
tasks, guarding agricultural equipment, and inspecting and maintaining a safe
farm are also important.
“On the farm, we tend to put too much faith in well-defined safety rules,”
Piercy says. “We think if a piece of machinery or a chemical has rules, that alone
makes it safer.”
Piercy says parents sometimes overestimate their children’s abilities, perhaps
forgetting they are children and sometimes their behavior is childlike. He emphasizes
that children need proper training and supervision on the farm. Parents need to
explain the rules and why they exist.
“It’s good to encourage farm families to walk around the farm,” Piercy
continues. “Let kids identify the hazards. That way, the parents have a better
appreciation of what their kids understand.”
A Safety Program for Every County
Agricultural safety training has been sprouting all over Kentucky in the
past year as part of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Farm Safety Grant
Program. The program, approved by the state legislature in 1998, provides grants
of $1,000 per county, for groups to present farm safety instruction. By the end
of last November, 98 of Kentucky’s 120 counties had projects approved. The projects
approved include farm safety days, safety camps, and resource centers.
Sponsoring groups include conservation districts, Extension offices, health
and fire departments, and 4-H and FFA groups. For more information on the Farm
Safety Grant Program, phone Sam Edelen at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture,
(502) 564-5126.-Paul Wesslund
Where to Find Farm Safety Info
For more farm safety information contact Dale Dobson, Farm Safety Field
Officer for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Room 188, Capitol Annex, Frankfort,
KY 40601, phone (502) 564-5126, Web site www.kyagr. com.
Or visit the Web site of the National Safety Council at www.nsc.org/farmsafe.htm.
Farm safety information is also available from the Kentucky Farm Bureau
by calling Patty Blankenship at (502) 495-5000.
Farm Safety Tips
· If there’s only one seat on a farm vehicle, there should be only one rider.
· Respect all animals; they can hurt you without intending to.
· Read and re-read the owner’s manual of your equipment.
· Keep all children away from working equipment.
· Always disengage equipment, shut the tractor off, and lock brakes before dismounting.
· Always check for bystanders, especially children, before starting or moving
· Wear clothes that cannot be entangled with moving equipment parts.
· When using agricultural chemicals, always read and follow label instructions.
· Never store chemicals in anything other than their original containers.
· Some areas definitely should be off-limits to children-grain bins, silos, manure
lagoons, pesticide storage areas, and even roadways where there is frequent equipment