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Local News

May 17, 2013

Agritourism bill provides protection

DUNCAN — Much recent state legislature has been focusing on helping out family-owned small businesses and the agritourism industry is in the process of being included in these measures.

Any time people are around livestock or farming equipment, accidents are a definite risk, especially for those who aren’t used to the surroundings. With the passing of Oklahoma Senate Bill 931 by Sen. Ron Justice and Rep. Scott Biggs, agritourism professionals will have state protection.

An agritourism activity is any activity carried out on a farm or ranch that allows members of the general public for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes to view or enjoy rural activities, including farming, ranching, historic, cultural, harvest-your-own activities, or natural activities and attractions. An activity is an agritourism activity whether or not someone pays to participate.

“The agritourism industry in Oklahoma is very popular but we need to protect those who provide these fun activities, like corn mazes and petting farms, to the public because it’s just common sense that if you’re around animals, you might get bitten and if you’re on a hayride and you don’t sit down, you could fall off,” said Justice, R-Chickasha.

“The farmers and ranchers who open up their facilities shouldn’t be punished for others’ lack of good judgment. This bill will protect the owners from being liable as long as they have all the risks posted for guests to see.”

These notices have to be prominently posted on the owner’s property, which is something Terry Roden, owner of Big Oak Stables out near Duncan Lake, has been adhering to since 1999. This extra protection is something Roden said he thinks is a good thing.

“It’s nice to have that protection because you ride at your own risk and I’ve had all of that posted for years,” he said.

“We’ve been lucky because I’ve been out here a long while and we’ve only had one incident but with livestock, anything can happen. You don’t make a lot of money in this business anyway and if you have to pay it all out in insurance, you sure aren’t going to make anything.”

The idea of how easily it would be to get sued for someone’s injury on their premises is what kept Kimberly Ann McGarr of KS&A Orchards from allowing anymore tours. KS&A Orchards is a Grade A Sheep dairy just south of Comanche, where East Friesian sheep produce rich milk and it is converted into exquisite sheep milk Bleu Cheese. The cheese processing plant is on location and other sheep products are also available. They also allow pecan picking in their orchard during season.

“We did allow tours but we decided to stop because of how many risks and it’s not worth the money I get (from the tours,” said McGarr. “This is the first year we haven’t done tours.”

McGarr did mention looking into the new bill to see exactly how much protection it would give her business. As a whole, Loisdawn Jones, director of the Duncan Convention and Visitors Bureau, said SB 931 is a positive change.

“I’m very pleased that legislature supports it because it’s another way for rural Oklahomans to add to the revenue stream,” she said. “It’s also giving people who are not exposed to that way of life a chance to see what it’s all about.”

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