By SEAN ELISE
BOISE -- Gov. Butch Otter has signed into law a bill that defines agritourism in Idaho code and provides farmers and ranchers who engage in that activity limited liability protection from nuisance lawsuits.
The bill was supported in the form of written and oral testimony by farmers and ranchers from all over the state who have agritourism operations.
While producers need to do their part and make their farms as safe as possible, there are certain hazards on a farm that cannot be eliminated and the bill addresses that reality, Otter said April 3 during a signing ceremony in his office.
"This bill provides certain limited liability if a person, God forbid, should happen to have an accident that is not due to the negligence of the tour guide," Otter said.
The Idaho Agritourism Promotion Act, which passed the Idaho House and Senate by a combined vote of 103-2, is effective July 1.
The new law will help alleviate some of the uncertainty agritourism operators deal with, said Meridian farmer Jim Lowe, the bill's author.
"I think the end result will be a little more confidence for those who are engaging in agritourism and those who may be considering it," said Lowe, who owns a corn maze and pumpkin festival that draws about 20,000 visitors annually.
The legislation defines agritourism as any activity carried out on a farm or ranch that allows people to experience and understand agriculture.
The bill provides agritourism operators limited liability protection if they post warnings about risks inherent on a farm. It doesn't excuse them for being negligent, Lowe said.
"Safety has to be the No. 1 priority in all of our operations," he said. "This bill doesn't change that at all. We still have that obligation to operate under best practices."
As the owner of a U-pick farm in Kuna that also hosts field trips for school children, Cathy Cabalo said she does everything possible to ensure her visitors are safe.
"But if somebody were to get hurt even after that ... now we at least know we have the state to back us up," said Cabalo, who attended the signing ceremony. "It's also nice to know they understand who we are and what we do and that we're a benefit to the state."
Linda Rider, who operates a ranch in Coeur d'Alene that provides a host of agritourism opportunities, sent a letter to lawmakers explaining why it's important for farmers and ranchers to educate people about where their food comes from.
"This piece of legislation would lighten the concerns of bringing people onto one's farm or ranch and hopefully more farmers and ranchers would, indeed, tell that story," she stated.
Farm land in Idaho is taxed at a lower rate than other land and the bill also ensures that engaging in agritourism does not change the property tax status of farm ground.