Iowa farm tours and recreation face liability challenges

An Iowa Supreme Court decision could make farmers liable for injuries guests experience during tours and outings to hunt, fish and ride snowmobiles.

The decision stems from an accident during a farm tour in Fayette County. And without a legislative reversal to a long-time policy, farmers warn they will lock their gates to visitors and outdoor enthusiasts.

Dennis Campbell’s farm in Grand Mound, Iowa, became an international learning lab last August.

“This particular location has had very little rain,” said one guide.

Three busloads of South American farmers studied parched crops there during the drought.

“This corn, it looks really bad,” said one visitor.

“Everybody that comes out and spends some time on the farm really appreciates the opportunity to do this with us,” Campbell said.

A sixth generation Iowa farmer, Campbell says it’s just the right thing to do.

“A lot of kids today think their food comes from the grocery store,” he said. “We need to get them to take it to the next step.”

But Campbell and other Iowa farmers are disappointed by the court decision. It could force them to pay the bills for accidents during tours or recreational activities. It would take away protection in place for a half-century.

“All of a sudden, you’ve got something something coming out of left field that really kind of threw the agriculture industry for a loop,” he said.

The changes could end a variety of charity activities — like an annual hayrack ride for the Handicapped Development Center — and could threaten other annual events on his land for outdoor enthusiasts.

“It concerns us in agriculture because it puts a limit on our ability to bring these groups onto our farms,” he said.

It could also silence an indoor batting cage and basketball hoop on his land. Local teams practice there for free.

“All those things become in jeopardy,” he said. “We just want to get some clarity.”

With spring planting just days away, there’s hope for legislative action in Des Moines.

“How can we bring these people onto our farm without opening ourselves up to some liability that we have been protected from in the past?” he concluded.

Otherwise, these farm tours could be harvested for good.

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