Pennsylvania farm families will have more opportunity to diversify their businesses and connect with their communities around food and agriculture thanks to a new law that addresses a significant legal barrier to offering agritourism activities.
Gov. Tom Wolf recently signed legislation to enact commonsense legal protections for agritourism—one of Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s top legislative priorities for close to a decade—following its passage by the General Assembly.
PFB worked closely with state Rep. Barb Gleim to introduce the legislation, House Bill 101.
The law’s adoption is a major victory for Pennsylvania agriculture and PFB’s grassroots advocacy. Farmers have sought for years secure civil liability limits for agritourism to help family farms remain viable through a changing farm economy and connect with their communities around family fun and local food. PFB led the effort to put momentum behind the measure, making it a priority of the organization’s grassroots advocacy campaign and holding a news conference last fall to build support.
“This commonsense legal reform will help Pennsylvania’s family farms preserve their futures so they can continue to grow their rural communities and enhance our state’s agricultural heritage,” PFB President Rick Ebert said. “Farmers prioritize safety; but farms are natural environments and it’s impossible to eliminate every hazard. This reform will enable Pennsylvania farm families to safety invite the public to experience agriculture without having to risk their farms’ futures or pay cost-prohibitive insurance premiums.”
The law offers commonsense legal protection to farms that invite the public onto their property for agritourism activities, such as corn mazes, pick-your-own produce, hayrides, and similar attractions. Specifically, farms that offer agritourism activities will now have reasonable protection from lawsuits that arise from circumstances beyond their control and in which no party is at fault as long as they warn visitors of the inherent risks of being on a farm, such as uneven ground, weather, and unpredictable animals.
At the same time, farmers will still need to take reasonable steps to ensure guest safety. The law does not give farms a free pass from ensuring guest safety and farms can still be held accountable if they fail to fix or warn patrons of obvious and dangerous safety risks. The measure is modeled off similar laws already on the books in at least 20 other states, including New York and Ohio.
The threat of frivolous lawsuits has been a significant barrier for agritourism operations. In addition to putting their farms at risk by inviting the public onto their property, farmers who engage in agritourism have difficulty finding insurance coverage or have to pay high premiums due to the legal risks involved. The new law limiting civil liability seeks to address this challenge.