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Legislation designed to boost Ohio agritourism

Special to the Legal News

Published: July 15, 2014

The sponsors of a bill that would limit the authority of local governments to prohibit agritourism through zoning have said the measure was drafted to strengthen Ohio’s already present agritourism industry and foster additional growth.

Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, said Senate Bill 334 is designed to address many of the liability and regulatory challenges that affect the state’s agritourism industry.

“Agritourism welcomes visitors to take part in operations on a farm; these activities can range from participating in a hayride to picking your own apples,” she said.

“This industry provides a great opportunity for Ohioans and out-of-state visitors to take advantage of our state’s unique agricultural landscape while providing our farmers with supplemental income. This bill will remove many of the regulatory and liability barriers that often deter farmers from offering these activities on their property.”

SB 334 states that county and township zoning laws would have no authority to prohibit the use of any land for agritourism.

The measure defines “agritourism” to mean any educational, entertainment or recreational activity that takes place on a working farm or agricultural or horticultural operation and that allows or invites members of the general public to observe, participate in or enjoy that activity.

Agritourism includes historic and cultural agriculture activities, self-pick farms or farmer’s markets when they are conducted in conjunction with farm operations.

SB 334, which is jointly sponsored by Jones and Sen. Bob Peterson, R-Sabina, would authorize the director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture to adopt rules establishing standards for amusement rides at agritourism locations that are consistent with standards adopted by the American Camp Association, and exempts amusement rides that are subject to those rules from existing law governing amusement rides.

The bill provides that an agritourism provider would be immune from liability in a civil action for any harm a participant sustains during an agritourism activity if the participant is harmed as a result of a risk inherent in an agritourism activity.

“County boards will not have the power to prohibit agritourism activities, while maintaining the ability to regulate items such as structure size and parking areas,” Jones said.

“The language will address the inherent risks of agritourism activity, such as natural conditions of farmlands, the behavior of wild and domestic animals and the ordinary dangers associated with a working farm. Agritourism providers will be protected from civil action in cases associated with the inherent risks of a farm.”

Jones said the bill would ensure that farms offering agritourism activities would be able to maintain Current Agricultural Use Valuation status.

“Previously, CAUV status has been denied to entities providing agritourism activities, such as trail rides. This legislation will ensure agritourism providers receive this earned property tax status,” she said.

“Agritourism providers in our state bring a unique cultural experience to all Ohioans. It is important that we foster an environment that encourages farmers to provide agritourism activities. This industry not only provides economic benefits to our state, but it teaches citizens and visitors about the value of the agriculture industry.”

Peterson highlighted agriculture as Ohio’s largest industry.

“(It) is an important part of both our state’s past and its future. The growth of the agritourism industry allows people to reconnect with their rural roots, have a fun farm experience and learn more about the amazing technology that Ohio farmers use to grow the crops and livestock that feed America and the world,” he said.

“People today are especially interested to learn and know more about how and where their food is grown, truly desiring to follow their food from seed to fork.”

Peterson said Ohio’s agritourism industry brings consumer and farmers together in a meaningful way.

“I believe SB 334 will help farmers become more comfortable in engaging in agritourism activities. This bill’s purpose is to clarify many of the regulations that have discouraged farmers from participating in agritourism and will alleviate some of the concerns with liability that farmers have,” he said.

“As an example, many farms that participate in agritourism provide a premade snack for their consumers to enjoy and to connect them to the farm. Under current law, farms that participate in this activity would be regulated as a restaurant. SB 334 is a bill that is good for agriculture and good for business and good for Ohio.”

SB 334 has gained bipartisan support from Sens. Cliff Hite, Bill Beagle, Randy Gardner, Gayle Manning, Capri Cafaro and Lou Gentile.

The bill is before the Senate Civil Justice committee.

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