FARM TOURS: Legislation Tries To Overturn Ruling

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(KWWL) – Farmers are finding themselves forced to crack down on tour groups in light of a recent Iowa Supreme Court decision.

In February, the court ruled something called the Iowa Recreational Use Statute does not shield a Fayette County farmer from liability. That’s in a 2010 incident where a woman fell from the farm’s hayloft and injured herself while chaperoning her daughter’s field trip.

Legislation in the Iowa House and Senate aims to protect farmers from lawsuits in situations like this.

However, there’s a fuzzy line here, as there is already something that protects farmers from liability. It’s that recreational use statute. Enacted in Iowa more than 40 years ago in the face of decreasing amounts of public land, the statute encourages farmers to open their land to the public for hunting, tours and other outdoor uses by giving them some protection from liability.

The recent Iowa Supreme Court decision made farmers more susceptible to lawsuits, and many legislators want to reverse that.

On Friday afternoon, a group of young adults with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps toured Phil Short’s Buchanan County farm. They did it to familiarize themselves with the community they’re serving.

For many of these AmeriCorps members, who range in age from 18 to 24 and are from all over the U.S., the farm visit was a first.

Seattle, Wash. native David Chernyshov, 24, said his childhood vision of a farm, “was probably just some barnyard animals and, you know, a big red barn, but it’s quite a lot different here. Obviously, it’s very industrialized, you know, it’s beef cattle.”

Farmer Phil Short opened up his farm to give these AmeriCorps NCCC members a taste of rural Iowa, something he said is valuable for anybody who has never visited a farm.

“It’s extremely important. People need to know what’s going on out here so they have an understanding,” Short said. “You know, 40 years ago, everybody kind of had an idea of what was going on on the farm. Today, it’s getting to where there’s less and less people out here.”

Changing that openness, however, is the Iowa Supreme Court’s February decision. More farmers are now considering saying “no” to tour groups or requiring visitors to sign liability waivers.

“It’s sad that it has to come that, but that’s probably what will happen,” Short said of the waivers.

Fans of farms and the great outdoors have since pushed back, arguing increased liability will shut off the educational and recreational benefits of accessing farmland.

Proposed legislation in the Iowa House and Senate may effectively undo the precedent set by the court’s ruling.


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