Grower says fear of frivolous lawsuit deters investment
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- A bill recently introduced in the Idaho Legislature would grant basic protections to farmers and ranchers in Idaho involved in agritourism.
The bill was introduced by farmer Jim Lowe, who owns The Farmstead Corn Maze and Pumpkin Festival, which uses a wide variety of farm-related activities to entertain and educate 20,000 people per year about agriculture.
"Agritourism is a new and growing industry in Idaho that as of yet has not been addressed in Idaho code. This is the start of that process," he told lawmakers Feb. 6 before they agreed to introduce the bill.
As agritourism has become a rapidly growing industry across the state and nation, sometimes governments don't quite know what to do with it, Lowe said. "So this is the first address of what agritourism is and the first thing it does is define agritourism in Idaho code."
The legislation defines agritourism as any activity carried out on a farm or ranch that allows members of the public to experience and understand agriculture. That includes corn mazes, farm festivals, petting zoos, guided and self-guided tours, bed and breakfast accommodations, hay rides, U-picks, barn parties, horseback riding, fee fishing and camping.
The bill, called the Idaho Agritourism Promotion Act, provides agricultural operations involved in agritourism activities limited liability if they post warnings about risks inherent on a farm.
Addressing an urban lawmaker's concern, Lowe said liability is not limited if an operation doesn't follow safe procedures and it only pertains to risks inherent on farms or ranches.
"It would not release them from liability for negligence or disregard for safety," he said. "It specifically does not afford any protection to an agritourism provider who is negligent or who knows or should know of a dangerous situation and does nothing to correct that or prevent that."
Farm land in Idaho is taxed at a lower rate that other land and the bill makes it clear that land involved with agritourism qualifies as farmland.
"This bill just clearly outlines that so there's no confusion," he said, adding that farm land in Idaho has to meet certain criteria to qualify for the lower tax status. "An agritourism operation may or may not meet that criteria but the fact that it's an agritourism operation has no bearing on that."
Randy Feist, owner of Linder Farms, which is similar to and competes with The Farmstead in Meridian, Idaho, read through the proposed bill and said it appears good for the industry.
"I like it. It's geared to protect (agritourism)," he said.
Feist said some producers are hesitant to start agritourism operations because they're afraid of frivolous lawsuits and he's happy the bill addresses that.
"I completely understand that," he said. "I spent a lot of sleepless nights the first several years of my operation wondering about what I was going to be sued for. It's frightening."