(The Center Square) – A tax incentive in the state budget that begins July 1 could help cover liability insurance costs for Illinois’ agritourism industry.
Pumpkin fields, crop mazes, orchards, and U-pick farms are examples of agritourism businesses in Illinois. They are prime connectors for urban dwellers and farming communities in Illinois, said Steve Miller, owner of Liberty Apple Orchard in Edwardsville. He told The Center Square that it’s important for children to be able to see the food grow and taste it.
Miller is pleased that Illinois lawmakers approved a measure in the state budget that gives agritourism businesses a $1,000 tax credit to offset liability insurance costs.
“This type of legislation is important not only to the hundreds of specialty growers in the state, but also to the thousands of children and families who learn firsthand how important agriculture is to our state,” said said Miller.
Farms that offer U-Pick experiences, animal exhibits, crop mazes, hay wagon and sleigh rides, and historical and educational tours can all take advantage of the state’s new tax credit.
The tax credit is only fixed for the next two years.
Eighty-five percent of agritourism businesses in Illinois are small operations with revenues of about $25,000 per year. Yet unlike similar businesses in 31 other states, Illinois agritourism businesses struggle with high liability insurance costs.
“For three years now, we have introduced the Agritourism Accountability Act, thanks to the good work of Senator Rachelle Crowe. Unfortunately, this bill was not successful,” Miller said.
Miller blames the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association opposition for the lack of progress.
“They have tremendous influence in our state,” he said.
Miller wants Illinois to join Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri and 28 other states — including contentious states like New York and Washington — that protect agritourism businesses with limited liability laws.
Visiting an orchard is about as safe as visiting a neighborhood yard, Miller said. At Liberty Apple Orchard, they keep aisles mowed and pick up fruit that falls on the floor, but they can’t protect visitors from the same inherent risks that people find when they go outside. Bugs, uneven floors, weather and tree branches can be hazards anywhere.
“Guests of an agricultural facility are responsible for their own safety,” Miller said.
Liability insurance is a major expense for agritourism operators. Liberty Apple Orchard’s liability coverage cost has risen 9% this year, he said.