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Study offers proposals for cultivating agritourism

Sean Ellis

Capital Press

A 184-page report prepared by University of Idaho law students offers 20 proposals for growing agritourism in Idaho. It also discusses legal issues faced by agritourism operators around the nation and looks at ways to protect farmers from litigation.

BOISE — University of Idaho’s Economic Development Clinic has released a 184-page report that offers 20 proposals for growing and protecting agritourism in Idaho.

The report, written by third-year law students at UI’s College of Law in Boise, also provides a detailed look at legal issues arising in other states from the rapid growth of agritourism.

The intent of the report is to make it easier for farmers to take advantage of the public’s intense interest in visiting farms, said Meadowlark Farms owner Janie Burns.

“I think it’s a great step toward that goal,” said Burns, who hosted the project’s research team on her farm and spoke to them about the local food movement. “It was a great project. They did quite a bit of research.”

The research team also visited a 6,000-head feedlot, a winery and vineyard and a seed crop production facility before writing the report, which was further researched and revised by clinic director Stephen Miller.

The project developed from a relationship with Canyon County, which is interested in ensuring its codes facilitate and encourage agritourism and don’t hamper it, said development services director Patricia Nilsson.

“We want to help stabilize the agricultural industry in Canyon County by having farmers make more money,” she said. “We wanted them to review our code to make sure it wasn’t a barrier to property owners making more money through farming.”

Nilsson said the report is “a great reference book for anybody working to try to move agritourism forward in Idaho.”

The report provides local governments four potential agritourism ordinances that were gleaned from four counties around the nation.

It looks at key legal issues facing the agritourism industry around the country and how ambiguity in federal and Idaho state and county statutes could result in litigation traps for agritourism operators.

The report looks at possible legal frameworks for marketing agritourism, including agricultural promotion districts similar to those used by Texas that allow farmers to assess themselves a fee to promote agriculture or agritourism.

It proposes a state tax credit of 20 percent of the liability insurance paid by an agritourism operator.

“I thought there were a lot of good points in there,” said Bitner Vineyards owner Ron Bitner, who hosted the research team at his winery and was particularly interested in parts of the report that discussed how to protect operators from litigation.

Jim Lowe, the Meridian farmer who authored Idaho’s Agritourism Promotion Act, which became law in 2013, said the report seems heavy on the regulatory side and appears “to be written by an academic without maybe some of the realities of the real agritourism world.”

He said he appreciated the interest in agritourism, “but it doesn’t seem to come from an operator’s standpoint.”

Miller said he would welcome any comments on how to improve the report, but defended its practicality, especially the parts about protecting agritourism operators from litigation.

“Idaho is not a terribly litigious place but if push comes to shove, those issues are going to show up,” he said. “That’s real-world stuff.”

Online

A University of Idaho report on agritourism can be found online at  http://ssrn.com/abstract=2435306



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