Change in SD agritourism law offers more opportunities
for Tri-State Livestock News
Tucked on the northeastern edge of South Dakota, the Big Stone Pumpkin Patch draws thousands of people each year to pick their own pumpkin, enjoy a hayride and learn about rural life. As the business grows, concerns also surfaced.
“We have people coming to our property who have never been on a farm,” owner Mark Mueller of Big Stone City, SD, said. “Many don’t realize that it’s a working farm with uneven terrain. We have had instances where people wander off on our property away from the attractions out of our sight. We can’t fence everything off to contain everyone. Some customers pull corn from the corn maze and leave it in the pathways. People are welcome and we want to share with them. We carry other insurance but getting a change in the agritourism law will provide an extra layer of protection for us when people visit.”
In nearby Minnesota where there is a big push for agritourism, there is a lot of discussion about liability. Mark and Emily Mueller brought concerns about South Dakota’s law related to agritourism to their local state senator.
Mark Mueller called District 4 State Senator John Wiik of Big Stone City at the end of the 2021 SD Legislative Session about getting the law changed regarding liability for those involved in agritourism. In talking with the Muellers, Wiik could see the need for a change. Under the current law, if places were charging money for a corn maze or a pumpkin patch, then everything needed to meet normal business standards such as having level ground or walking paths for people. That could be excessive on a working farm.
“I took the issue to Pierre and talked to those in tourism and talked with ag groups to find out what we could do,” Wiik said. “If it could be fixed by a change in the law, then that’s my job. A working group made up of ag groups, the South Dakota Department of Tourism, and the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources and some of those involved with agritourism met and put together a bill. Changes made during session made SB 135 stronger and after careful scrutiny, the bill passed.” The law goes into effect on July 1, 2022.
Wiik cautioned, “This doesn’t mean you can’t get sued. This basic protection means that those with a corn maze can charge a fee. Those paying the fee accept the risks involved in normal farm activities like tripping on roots or walking carefully through pumpkin vines. Those offering the activity must post a sign and have those taking part sign a waiver. Basic protections are in place. If the barn caves in while walking through it, that’s a different matter.”
As a for-profit business, the Mueller family enjoys having visitors experience a bit of rural life. “We know we can’t be negligent. We open up our pumpkin patch, but people want to roam around the farm. If I have a falling down barn, I need to do due diligence to board it up to keep people from going in there where they may get hurt. It’s good business. Others who want to start an agribusiness experience need to look at surroundings and evaluate how they can keep people away from potentially hazardous areas.”
Mueller can see that the change will allow more people to diversify to bring in another revenue stream. “We didn’t have any idea our business would grow as it has. We are continually adding things to enhance the experience. With the change in the law, it helps to ease some of the stress and worry.”
Change will encourage opportunities
This change in the liability law excites Jacey Ellsworth, South Dakota Dept. of Tourism. She works directly with those interested in developing agritourism. In the past few years, the emphasis nationwide turned to rural areas and South Dakota can provide worthwhile experiences.
“Visitors to the state have changed what they are looking for when going on vacation,” Ellsworth said. “We’ve found people want to be outdoors more and they want learning experiences. That makes promoting agritourism a perfect way to connect those from the cities with those in agriculture.”
About 13.5 million visitors came to South Dakota in 2021 and spent $4.4 billion. Combining the two largest industries in the state, agriculture and tourism, there is a terrific opportunity to draw more people to the state, especially to rural areas.
Ellsworth said the law change makes it more attractive for individuals to develop on-farm or on-ranch opportunities. Under the current law, if you are charging for an experience on the farm, there was a loophole in the liability laws under which the entity would not be covered. Passage of SB 135 strengthens liability protections for either commercial or non-commercial entities.
On the webpage, sdvisit.com/agritourism, those interested can see the suggested wording for signs to be posted and also used in written contracts between the owner and any participant who enters or uses the land for agritourism activity.
“We still recommend that people check with their insurance and legal advisors to address issues,” Ellsworth said. “Every business is unique, so we can’t say that this covers everything for all businesses.”
Ellsworth said their office fields numerous requests from people or groups in states such as Minnesota, Kansas, Colorado and Illinois. Agritourism is a viable business opportunity which allows producers to diversify. Some coming from the cities may never know what it’s like to walk through a field of hay, see how a combine harvests corn or witness calves nestled next to their moms in a pasture.
Those in the tourism field find photos of sunflowers fascinate those who live in cities and visitors would seek opportunities to talk to farmers who grow them. Ellsworth said their office had a request from a bus group who specifically wanted to come to South Dakota to see the sunflowers bloom in May. Those who grow sunflowers know that’s not the time to see the golden flowers bloom.
One location is looking to develop tours to satisfy such a request.
The hometown charm and history of the Hydeout Bed and Breakfast near Highmore draws people to the location. To expand the rural experience, John and Beth Simonson are interested in offering a way to share with visitors how they raise sunflowers.
“We raise about 1,500 acres of oilseed sunflowers each year,” John Simonson said. He’s planted sunflowers since the 1980s and wants to inform them about the work and farming practices that go into producing the flowers. He sells his oil-type sunflowers to a plant in Huron that crushes the seed and extracts the oil which eventually goes onto shelves in grocery stores. As a farmer, John plants about 5,000 acres of crops each year.
The Bed and Breakfast was built in 1909 and people enjoy the serenity of the rural setting. To enhance that, “We wanted to offer farm tours to the people who visit. Without a change in the liability law, we hesitated to start,” Beth Simonson said. “We want to promote our sunflowers. With this law in place to limit our liability, we are seriously considering branching out to start tours.”
Ellsworth said their office is eager to learn about unique ag experiences in the state. To see more about agritourism, go to sdvisit.com/agritourism. If you have an agritourism business, contact her to submit listings on TravelSouthDakota.com
For more information at 605-773-3301 or Jacey.Ellsworth@TravelSouthDakota.com
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