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Peter Welte: Agritourism season is here

It is October, with Halloween around the corner. My thoughts drift to a local pumpkin patch owned by some friends of our family. It is a delightful enterprise they've developed into not only a pumpkin patch, but also a corn maze, hay rides, pumpk...

Peter Welte

It is October, with Halloween around the corner. My thoughts drift to a local pumpkin patch owned by some friends of our family. It is a delightful enterprise they’ve developed into not only a pumpkin patch, but also a corn maze, hay rides, pumpkins for sale, a haunted house and a haunted walk through the trees, along with baked goods for visitors. And it is often packed with visitors in the month of October.
It is a perfect example of agritourism.
A Google search on agritourism will yield 671,000 results. It is a hot topic in agriculture. With the serious financial challenges faced by farmers in the past year, agritourism will become more relevant than ever as farmers seek creative ways to diversify their income.
The National Agricultural Law Center has a separate reading room set aside for agritourism. According to the NALC, agritourism is a term that can be synonymous with agrotourism, farm tourism, agricultural tourism, or agritainment.
Defining agritourism can be difficult. According to the NALC, “agritourism could be thought of as the crossroads of tourism and agriculture. Stated more technically, agritourism can be defined as a form of commercial enterprise that links agricultural production and/or processing with tourism in order to attract visitors onto a farm, ranch, or other agricultural business for the purposes of entertaining and/or educating the visitors and generating income for the farm, ranch, or business owner.”
Technically defined, agritourism is comprised of four primary factors:

  • A combination of the essential elements of the tourism and agriculture industries.
  • Attracting members of the public to visit agricultural operations.
  • Designed to increase farm income.
  • Provides recreation, entertainment and educational experiences to visitors.

The North Dakota legislature, as in many agricultural states, has devoted a separate chapter of statutes to agritourism. North Dakota Century Code Chapter 53-13 is titled “Agritourism Activity Registration and Liability.” In that chapter, Agritourism activity is defined as any activity, including farming and ranching or any historic, cultural or natural attraction viewed or enjoyed by the public for educational, recreational or entertainment purposes, regardless of whether the member of the general public pays to participate in the activity or enjoy the attraction. The laws of North Dakota require registration of any agritourism operation. Interestingly, the laws of North Dakota explicitly state that except as otherwise provided, a participant in an agritourism activity assumes all inherent risks of that activity. This means there is a presumption the tourists enter an agritourism operation at their own risk. Statutes such as these do provide an incentive for agricultural operators to venture into agritourism activities because the statute provides a layer of protection from civil lawsuits by people who visit the agritourism operation, whether they pay a fee to enter or not.
Agritourism takes many forms. My neighbor’s operation is just one diversified example. Other examples can be much simpler. In fact, even a traditional farmer’s market is classified as an agritourism operation.
As with any business, people who venture into agritourism ought to seek legal counsel. Legal decisions such as business entities or business formation, tax decisions, liability and risk management, and even estate planning must be considered.
Editor’s note: Welte is an attorney at Vogel Law Firm in Grand Forks, N.D., and a small grains farmer in Grand Forks County.

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