Governor Tom Wolf signed Representative Barb Gleim’s bill offering farmers who open their farms to the public for educational or business purposes protection from civil suits, making it state law.
The new law extends liability protections to agricultural markets, U-pick produce fields, corn mazes, petting zoos, hay walks and farm tours and other activities that hundreds of farms turn to to promote their businesses and increase their income. Gleim notes that these extras can be the difference between having a positive year on the ledger or ending up in the red, especially for small family farmers.
It should also, she and other supporters of the change hope, help more farmers feel comfortable getting into the business.
In Pennsylvania, according to the most recent figures from the United States Census of Agriculture, the number of farms practicing these activities stagnated between 2012 (729) and 2017 (712), with most of the action occurring in counties where development has brought new subdivisions into traditional farming country closer together, such as Lancaster County in the middle.
There, the average agri-tourism income per farm was $ 67,234 in 2017, although the statewide average is $ 38,261. The next agricultural census will be completed in 2022.
To qualify for immunity under the new law, farm owners are required to post warning signs about general hazards associated with things such as rough terrain, interaction with livestock, etc. It also requires that all visitors sign a waiver stating that they are prepared to assume these risks.
The immunity, however, would not cover acts of gross negligence, criminal conduct or the failure of operators to issue clear warnings of any dangerous situation that arises. Farm immunity would also not apply to issues related to overnight accommodation, catering, concerts or weddings.
“Farms are natural environments,” noted Liam Migdail, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. An orchard that allows people to pick their own apples by definition brings people into land that has tree roots, sperm holes, and other potential dangers. On dairy and agricultural farms, silos, ponds, heavy equipment and farm animals are especially attractive for children to climb or play.
Due to the liability this represents, Migdail said, many farm owners have not been able to obtain liability insurance to cover public visits to their farms, or they have had to face premiums. so high that the costs are prohibitive.
“I think we’re going to see a lot more agritourism now that this legislation has removed that barrier,” Migdail said.
The new law takes effect in 60 days, so the new immunities would apply to cart rides, end-of-season mazes, school trips or other organized late-summer / early-summer activities. of autumn.
“To get this into Pennsylvania law, you had to get all the parties involved together and find common ground that benefits everyone,” said Gleim, a Cumberland County Republican. “It was rewarding work, knowing that the industry is aging and must expose future generations to its calling through the current farming community.
“I am happy and grateful that the General Assembly, the Governor and stakeholders understood how important the policy was to finalize. “