Helping grow Ohio’s agritourism industry

Debbie Mihalik was listening closely to a Farm Bureau presentation about an agritourism bill when her ears perked up. Audience members were asked to consider testifying at the statehouse in support of the bill.

“I’m going to do that,” said Mihalik, a Lake County Farm Bureau member whose family owns Regal Vineyards. Months later, she traveled nearly three hours to Columbus to testify along with other Farm Bureau members about how the bill would benefit the growing agritourism sector.

The bill was based on model legislation developed by Ohio Farm Bureau and addresses concerns expressed by OFBF members about zoning, liability and how land for agritourism is taxed. The new law goes into effect in August and is expected to help grow Ohio’s agritourism industry, which now has almost 700 farms that offer an agritourism feature.

“It was a very positive opportunity to work with Farm Bureau,” Mihalik said. “It was the first time I felt close to what Farm Bureau does and it was neat to be a part of it and see it happen.” Mihalik testified about constant challenges by the local auditor over the farm’s Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) tax status. The revenue generated by the agritourism activities helps sustain the farm, which produces corn, pumpkins, grapes and sheep.

For Debbie Sebolt of Nickajack Farms in North Lawrence, she anticipates the agritourism law will help alleviate the farm’s high liability costs. Sebolt, who also testified in favor of the bill, said the farm’s long-time insurance company dropped coverage because the operation was increasing its exposure due to agritourism. The family eventually found insurance coverage but at a very high price. She hopes the new law will reduce insurance costs.

“It’s been very difficult to explain what agritourism is (to local officials) and this bill should help local government better understand,” said Sebolt, a first generation farmer who is focused on teaching about agriculture by hosting hands-on learning activities for all ages at the farm, which grows corn, soybeans, hay and pumpkins.
“Agritourism is a growing part of agriculture and I’m glad to see the government understand that,” said Sebolt, a Stark County Farm Bureau member.

Ohio Farm Bureau thanks Sens. Bob Peterson, R-Sabina, and Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, for sponsoring the Senate version of the bill and Rep. Tony Burkley, R-Paulding, for being the sponsor of the House version.

What the new agritourism law does

  • The law limits the authority of county commissioners and township trustees to prohibit agritourism through zoning.
  • It clarifies that conducting agritourism activities on farmland does not disqualify that land from inclusion in the Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) program.
  • Immunity is established in a civil action for agritourism providers.
  • The law also specifies landowners have to post signs warning participants that there is no liability for injury or death associated with the inherent risks of agritourism activities. Inherent risks, defined in the bill, include conditions of the dangers associated with equipment and animals as well as participants acting in a negligent manner.

How to get an agritourism sign
To make it easier for members to comply with the new agritourism law, Ohio Farm Bureau has created warning signs with the language and size of lettering required by the new law. The signs help establish immunity in certain civil actions for agritourism operations. Contact your county Farm Bureau to find out how to order a sign.

Photo: Christy and Rob Leeds, of Delaware County, with an agritourism warning sign required by the new law.

Ohio Farm Bureau membership