Montana Farmers Union leads charge on passage of agritourism bill – applauds governor’s signing

Great Falls, MT (April 3, 2017) Montana Farmers Union was pleased to join Governor Steve Bullock in Helena on Friday for the signing of HB342. The bill, sponsored by Ross Fitzgerald(R) of House District 17 and championed by MFU, adds agritourism to the list of Montana recreational activities in which participants assume liability for the inherent risk of those activities. The bill passed the house 78-18 on February 10, passed the senate 43-6 on March 16 and signed into law by the governor on March 31.

MFU has tried in previous legislative sessions to get such legislation passed and lobbied heavily for its passage. “We have worked long and hard to see this legislation pass, said President Alan Merrill. “Agritourism has the potential to help Montana’s farmers and ranchers add diversity to their operation and earn added revenue to support their farm or ranch. There is great opportunity for youth particularly to learn about where their food comes from and to see the work that goes into producing local food.”

Representative Fitzgerald, President Merrill, Chris Christiaens and lobbyist Levi Ostberg of Montana Farmers Union joined the governor at the signing. Governor Bullock had this to say about the legislation and its potential impact on the state’s economy: “In a state of one million people, we have twelve million visitors each year. On the Ag side producing the greatest products and the opportunities now for tourists, it’s a great opportunity.”

MFU lobbyist, farmer and President of Cascade County Farmers Union Eric Bergman has joined Ostberg in lobbying at the capitol in support of HB342. Bergman farms with his wife Audra near Fort Shaw. Eric has noticed an increase in the number of people interested in knowing more about the industry, food production and agricultural life. He said the passage of HB342 will not only help his family earn additional income, but also creates the potential for excellent educational opportunities. “This new agritourism law helps by acknowledging that some risks are inherent to being in the world, and do not necessarily represent negligence on anyone’s behalf. The modest liability protection the law offers will give some farmers and ranchers a little peace of mind while pursuing agritourism opportunities. Although we haven’t pursued agritourism as an enterprise on our farm, we have hosted many field days, some farm to table meals, and many visits from our customers.  With this added legal security, we are considering more seriously ways we could host more guests.”

Colorado and Minnesota have also passed legislation on agritourism, which was supported by Farmers Union in those states as well. A PDF of HB342 can be found on the LAWS website at: http://leg.mt.gov/bills/2017/billpdf/HB0342.pdf.

Governor Steve Bullock signs HB342 into law.

Back row: left to right: Alan Merrill,MFU President; Levi Ostberg,MFU Lobbyist;Chris Christiaens, MFU Project Specialist

Front row:Representative Ross Fitzgerald; Governor Steve Bullock