April 23, 2014

New law addresses controversy over “farm tours”

Many Iowa farmers reluctant to welcome tours of their farms after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled a northeast farmer was liable for a woman’s injury during a farm tour are now rescheduling.

Legislators voted to extend new liability protection for farm tours and the law took effect this past Monday, July 1. 

“I have people visit my farm as many as four to five times a year and I have everywhere from kindergarten and preschool kids to college students,” says Dave Struthers, who raises hogs and row crops near Collins. “As a matter of fact, I’m hosting a college student group, planned now for August 3 of this year.”

In February the Iowa Supreme Court ruled a woman who fell from a hay loft during a dairy farm tour north of Oelwein had a right to sue the farmers over her injuries. Struthers considered cancelling tours of his farm.

“I was very hesitant with many of them and the locations that we would be going. We may just be standing in a shed rather than going out and walking around the farmstead,” Struthers says. “….Also we’ve had hay lessons for our church youth group as well as our 4-H group and I was concerned about liability that way, too.”

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled a long-standing state law to promote recreation on private land did not provide blanket liability protection for so-called farm tours. Struthers was among the farmers who called their legislators to complaint.

“My concern was we’d had what we thought was protection on the books for quite some time that would protect us under, you know, the good faith of giving farm tours and that type of thing, but with this ruling that said, ‘No, it didn’t’ pretty much left us very concerned about what liabilities we may have,” Struthers says. T

he new state law extends limited liability protection to farmers who engage in “educational activities” like farm tours on their property. A 1967 law provided Iowa landowners limited liability protection if they opened their property to recreational activities, a move designed to open more Iowa ground to hunting. Farmers like Struthers are celebrating the new law, but he says the episode has made farmers more aware of the potential dangers visitors on their farms may encounter.