by DOUG GRAVES
COLUMBUS, Ohio – From mid October through Thanksgiving, agritourism is in full swing on farms in Ohio and adjacent states.
While most farmers entice visitors to their farm in the fall with pumpkin patches, mazes made from hay bales, caramel and candy-coated apples and baked items from the farm, many are beginning to add animals to the mix. And that requires extra thinking on the producer’s part.
“But be very careful,” says Peggy Kirk Hall, Associate Professor at Ohio State University’s Agricultural & Resource Law Program.
“Offering agritourism activities is a fun way to teach people about agriculture or to increase a farm or ranch’s income, but agritourism that includes animals exposes an operator to different and additional types of liability risk. Indeed, farm animals can be a valuable attraction but they increase liability risks.
Visitors could be harmed by petting, riding or feeding the animals. Because of this risk, a farmer or rancher must carefully consider insurance needs and ensure adequate insurance coverage.”
Farmers and ranchers typically obtain property liability insurance to cover the costs of a legal liability incident if someone is harmed on the property. Agritourism insurance refers to a customized rider that adds or amends liability coverage above and beyond a farm or ranch’s general property insurance policy.
“While farm or ranch property liability insurance policies cover a wide range of risks, they often don’t include the different types of risks that are involved in agritourism,” Hall said. “Agritourism activities are not typical farming activities and many of these, such as petting zoos, corn mazes and even bouncy houses, present a higher likelihood of harm than many ordinary activities.”
According to Hall, each state defines agritourism differently, adding that there are a number of activities generally considered agritourism that a landowner will want to ensure are covered by his or her policy.
These include you-pick operations, hay wagon rides, corn mazes, bird watching, cut-your-own Christmas tree farms, camping sites, hunting and fishing, agricultural education and school tours. In addition, Hall adds, farmers market events and food stands are prime for insurance coverage.
Hall says that as many farmers grow their agritourism operation they start adding animals to the mix, and including hay rides with horses, horseback riding, pony rides and petting zoos.
“Producers should have signs stating, ‘Be careful with your children around animals’ and ‘Wash your hands.’ Give warnings too,” Hall said. “The signs don’t have to be too scary, but one needs good, educational and informative signs just letting people know to be careful.”
“The best management practices we recommend are to first try not to allow direct contact with the animals,” Hall said. “The feed stations are a potential disaster. The child feeds the animal and puts their hands in their mouth and now we have potential for disease. If one insists on allowing children to pet the animals it might be a good idea to have a hand washing station nearby.”
Hall recommends erecting a double fence to keep people away from the animals, and warns that manure poses a problem, stating that producers should keep a separate area for animals and any type of food on hand.
According to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, agritourism has expanded the past 10 years, to including such activities as weddings, zip lines, climbing walls, inflatable slides, rope courses, paintball courses, archery, haunted houses, pumpkin launchers and others. But the use of animals, the department notes, is on the rise.
“More than half the states now have agritourism protection or immunity laws and ours is one of only two that actually addresses the potential of being harmed by an animal on an agritourism operation,” Hall said. “When it comes to animals, we do have some protection under Ohio law under the agritourism law, but I don’t think anyone wants to be responsible for any customer being harmed by an animal on the farm.”
Cutline #2: The launching of pumpkins on farms has garnered a lot of attention on farms, but there are liability issues. (Doug Graves photo)
Cutline #1: More and more farms are allowing children to pet their farm animals, but young visitors take risks of being hurt by these animals. (Doug Graves photo)