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A gallon of milk, a hay bale and a law suit

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By Holly Martin

Where does the milk come from? All too often, children answer: the grocery store. The answer is becoming more and more frequent with more and more people being several generations removed from the farm.

For the last several years there has been a real and concerted effort on the part of farmers and ranchers to connect with the consumer. Producers have realized that they must educate consumers on where their food comes from so that they may make educated decisions about their food.

And that's a good thing, except farmers may be thinking twice about inviting visitors to their farm following a recent court decision in Iowa.

The Iowa Supreme Court recently ruled that farmers are not protected by a law that is intended to promote recreation on private lands. On May 18, 2010, Kimberly Sallee was visiting a dairy farm in rural Fayette County, Iowa, with her daughter's kindergarten class. The farm, owned by Matt and Diana Stewart, hosted the classes each year and took the groups on guided tours. Part of the tour was a stop at the hay loft of the family's barn. It had openings to the bottom floor of the barn, but the holes had been covered with bales to protect anyone from falling through and the family tested their support by standing on them before the children arrived. Sallee, whom the court documents call "a very large woman" stepped on the bales and fell through, breaking her wrist and ankle. Sallee sued.

Each state has different laws regarding this type of case. Many states have laws on the books protecting landowners from liability from injuries related to recreational use, such as hunting, fishing, camping, or horseback riding.

For most agricultural producers, they feel those laws protect them from liability should something happen during a tour of their farm. But the Iowa Supreme Court ruled this case does not fall under the Iowa law.

What does that mean? It means farmers and ranchers must be vigilant in protecting themselves before inviting anyone to tour their farm. They must consult an attorney to find out their liability, take the proper precautions and seek the proper insurance.

And sadly, it also means that some agricultural producers will choose not to host tours, for fear of being sued.

It is unfortunate that our society has become so litigious that we seek every opportunity to blame someone else for every little thing. The result is that young children may grow up thinking that a gallon of milk really does come from the grocery story. It is a sad statement on American society and does not bode well for our future.

Holly Martin can be reached by phone at 1-800-452-7171 ext. 1806, or by email at hmartin@hpj.com.

Date: 4/22/2013



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