by Edith Tucker
GREENLAND, NH – Based on many years of experience, insurance agent Andy Robertson, senior advisor, NFP Property & Casualty in Bedford, NH, offered a wealth of tips and warnings for those considering opening their farms up to agritourism at the 11th annual New Hampshire Direct Marketing Conference sponsored by UNH Cooperative Extension.
Agritourism – opening up your farm and its activities to visitors – sometimes falls into a no-man’s land in the insurance world. “It’s agriculture versus business, with each saying it’s the other one,” he explained.
Robertson, who is part of a network of insurance agents that does provide agritourism liability coverage, offered many suggestions, based on clients’ experiences, designed to reduce the chance of host farmers having to make expensive payouts from their own limited resources.
“Avoid overselling your farm’s attractions on your website or other social media,” he urged. “Don’t write that you have pony rides or hay wagons if you don’t but only hope to someday. This can discourage an agent from providing you coverage. Do tell your agent everything that you are doing, though! Remember everybody now checks what you write on an application for coverage against what’s written on your website.
“A good rule of thumb is to save all emails that you and your agent exchange,” Robertson continued. “This could prevent a disagreement about exactly is covered under your liability coverage.
“Don’t blog about troublesome events,” he cautioned. “A farmer who complained about underage teens illegally drinking alcohol in his newly opened corn maze had to pay a higher price for coverage than is the norm.”
Robertson pointed out that it is very important to let your municipality’s fire, police and EMS departments know about any special events, such as a wedding or Harvest Fest, and ongoing regular events, such as a petting zoo.
“Make sure that you have clear and free access for first responders to get to all the places where any visitors will be,” Robertson said. “If there will be visitors riding horses or holding horses by their reins, I suggest you let your city or town’s emergency service know they should turn off their sirens and flashing red and blue lights before entering your property. Horses are easily spooked or startled, and the noisy arrival of emergency vehicles could make an accident scene worse.”
Robertson urged farmers to carefully lay out safe parking areas and to hire and train parking attendants so they all know what is expected of them and how to handle visitors who don’t obey oral directions or written signs.
“When kids visit your farm, you need things for them to do,” he said. “I remember going to an … event, and a number of low hay bales were set out for children to climb and play on – nothing fancy, but it kept them busy. A simple craft and coloring table can also be set up.”
He also warned a dog policy is a necessity, observing that dogs – “the new children” – can often be a “flash point” on a farm with lots of visitors as well as farm animals. “Even if you have a ‘no dog’ policy, people will slip dogs into their jackets or otherwise try to sneak them in; this is something you must prepare your parking attendants to watch out for,” he said.
Robertson recommends that farmers discuss serving food with their insurance agent as well as the local health department, and in New Hampshire, the state Liquor Commission is in charge of enforcing all rules and regulations that apply to the sale and serving of alcohol.
Athletic events, such as a 5K race, are not considered a component of agritourism, he said, noting that a one- or three-day insurance policy could likely be purchased, however.
Robertson also urged farmers to be aware of how different their farms look after dark. “Evening events require adequate lighting,” he said, noting that darkness can also lead to more opportunities for crimes to be committed.
He highly recommended a website designed to provide detailed guidance for farmers considering welcoming visitors to their properties: safeagritourism.org/resources . Its topics range from “hand washing and restrooms” to “hayride safety checklist” to what to look for on a walk-through, plus an insurance discussion sheet. The latter concludes by recommending that farmers keep in mind: “(1) Keeping documentation of all safety strategies, including policies and inspections, [which] demonstrate that you have these elements in place. This is important in the event of an injury on your operation” and “(2) Don’t be afraid to ask questions, ask for clarification or even challenge your agent when something doesn’t seem right. It is important that you and your insurance agent work together to ensure you have the coverage you need. The best time to do this is before a claim occurs.”