All hat, no cashmere goats. That’s the only possible explanation for the out-of touch remarks made by Representative Rehberg when he suggested that there is no danger in agricultural work.
Rehberg, a six-term congressman who’s running to unseat Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), said he’s a fifth-generation Montana rancher whose great grandfather, born in 1873, started breaking horses at age 11. Rehberg said he has “taken all the glamour” out of his ranching operation. “I don’t rope and I don’t tie and I don’t brand with a hot iron,” he went on, adding that he uses modern equipment that he said is virtually incapable of hurting children.
“You can’t get hurt,” Rehberg fumed. “It’s impossible. You could have a five-year-old out there running it.”
Rehberg’s right, of course, when it comes to his version of ranching, which no doubt involves a lot of hired help planning driveways on the land his great-grandfather broke horses on.
Of course, the reality for those who aren’t farming subdivisions is a bit more complicated and dangerous. In fact, according to the Department of Labor, working in agriculture is the 4th most deadly profession in the United States. All of us who work and live in Montana know people who’ve been seriously hurt or even killed on our farms and ranches—and appreciate the dangers and sacrifices those jobs entail.
It’s a critical—and dangerous job, as Representative Rehberg should know:
The Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that the fatality rate for agricultural workers who are 15 to 17 years of age is 4.4 times greater than the risk for the average worker in that age range. The most common cause of agricultural deaths among young workers is farm machinery, with tractors involved in over half of the fatalities.
“Many tragic and unnecessary accidents involving children employed in agriculture never make the national news, but result in significant harm to the lives of those children and their families,” Leppink said.
For Rehberg to suggest that farmers and ranchers “can’t get hurt” demonstrates just how little connection he has to the land he once pretended to farm and to the people who really work that land.
Rehberg’s defense of agriculture might make a good sound bite in an election year, but it’s certainly telling that he doesn’t understand the real dangers faced by people he pretends to be one of.