By Malinda Geisler, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University.
Profile updated July 2013.
A more popular and growing opportunity for agricultural producers is agritourism. Agritourism is generally defined as activities that include visiting a working farm or any agricultural, horticultural or agribusiness operation to enjoy, be educated or be involved in what is happening at that locale.
A few examples of agritourism are:
- farm tours for families and school children,
- day camps,
- hands-on chores,
- self-harvesting of produce,
- hay or sleigh rides and
- overnight stays in a bed and breakfast.
Some people have become involved in agritourism as a way of supplementing their income, while others desire an opportunity to educate the public and introduce people to farming.
The rural United States is a popular tourist destination. Many producers who are involved in agritourism note there is synergism in having non-competing agritourism enterprises in the area to increase traffic to the area and provide more tourism attractions for customers.
According to the 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture, 23,350 farms indicated they provided agritourism and recreation services valued at $566 million. Of the total farms, 3,637 farms indicated gross farm receipts of $25,000 or more.
The Hawaii Agricultural Statistics Service pegged the value of agritourism-related activities at $38.8 million in 2006, up 14 percent from $33.9 million in 2003. There were 112 Hawaiian farms that had agritourism-related income in 2006. On-farm sales direct to farm visitors was the leading category of revenue, with $12.1 million, followed by retail sales of products from other farms or souvenir items. Other revenue-generating activities for Hawaiian farms included outdoor recreation, accommodations such as bed and breakfast and meeting rooms, entertainment and education.
Montana had 10.5 million nonresidents visit the state in 2010, spending $2.48 billion. Yellowstone and Glacier Parks are the most visited sites, overall. A survey indicated fishing, wildlife watching, hiking and shopping as primary Montana tourist activities.
According to a state survey, income from Vermont agritourism totaled $19.5 million in 2002, up from $10.5 million during 2000. One-third of all Vermont farms received income from agritourism in 2002. Average income received from agritourism for 2,200 farms was nearly $8,900. The survey found that farms with fewer acres tended to be more involved in agritourism than larger farms. Thirty eight percent of farms with less than 50 acres in 2002 received income from agritourism compared to 29 percent of farms with 150 or more acres.
On-farm sales of commodities such as maple syrup and maple products, Christmas trees, fruits, vegetables, cut flowers, nursery products, cheese and an assortment of other items produced on Vermont farms were the most common source of agritourism income. Other categories of agritourism included outdoor recreation, education, accommodations and entertainment.
Related Tourism Markets
Several types of related tourism activities are available in addition to agritourism. They include the following.
A segment of rural tourism is referred to as nature-based tourism, ecotourism or sometimes recreation-based tourism. Nature-based tourism attracts people interested in visiting natural areas of the United States for the purpose of enjoying the scenery, including plant and animal wildlife. Examples of nature-based tourism include hunting, fishing, photography, bird watching and visiting parks.
Weddings are an $48 billion a year business. About 2.2 million couples get married each year. Weddings cost from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands, with the average U.S. wedding costing between $21,000 to $24,000. An outdoor wedding is appealing to couples because it offers a beautiful setting with lawn, trees and flowers, and may be more affordable than traditional ceremony sites.
Hosting weddings on a farm can entail considerable work, as well as ensuring all details associated with weddings and large groups of people in general are considered. Some of these important factors include liability insurance, restroom facilities, staffing, marketing, parking, chairs and tables, an alternative indoor facility such as a barn or pavilion in case of inclement weather, a kitchen for catering and other activities for kids.
Family-owned wineries are popular tourist attractions in certain regions of the United States. These wine-producing vineyards host visitors for educational tours and wine tasting. Some locations offer overnight stays. For more detailed information on wineries, see the Wine Tours page.
California accounts for two-thirds of all wine sold in the United States. Wine is the number one finished agricultural product in retail value in California. The state produces 90 percent of all U.S. wine production. In 2010, California’s wine industry generated $18.5 billion in retail sales in the United States. Tourism directly related to California’s wine industry accounts for nearly 21 million visitors and expenditures of $2.1 billion annually.
California has 3,400 bonded wineries, with Napa and Sonoma counties accounting for the most wineries. There are more than 6,670 wineries in the United States.
Starting a Business
There are several issues to consider when starting an agritourism business. University specialists suggest that you closely examine the following three factors:
- determine your "attraction,"
- develop a marketing plan and
- review other issues such as insurance, labor and biosecurity.
An agritourism enterprise may require more labor and the need for employees. Additional tourism or marketing opportunities may interfere with normal farm activities. Hosting visitors means dealing with the public, which increases the farm’s risk and liability. Close proximity to a significant population center is another important factor.
Local, state and federal regulations will need to be addressed on such topics as zoning, signage, food service, animal exhibits and health.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, travel and tourism is a $759 billion industry in the United States that has directly generated more than 7.4 million jobs. The U.S. travel industry ranks as the fifth largest employer and among the top 10 industries in 49 states, including the District of Columbia, when measured by employment. Travel and tourism generates $118 billion in tax revenue for federal, state and local governments, with the restaurant industry accounting for the majority of this economic activity.
The California Wine Industry/Wine Institute
First Statewide Agritourism Survey Yields Early Results, Small Farm News, Small Farm Center, University of California, 2009 - California farmers and ranchers hosted more than 2.4 million agricultural tourists in 2008, based on results from California’s first statewide economic survey of agritourism operators.
Hawaii Agricultural Statistics, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA - Select "Miscellaneous" under Hawaii Publications.
Multi-Enterprising Farm Households: The Importance of Their Alternative Business Ventures in the Rural Economy, Economic Research Service, USDA, October 2012 - In 2007, 686,600 farm households engaged in 791,000 income-generating activities distinct from commodity production, creating $26.7 billion in household income.
National Association of American Wineries
New England Agricultural Statistics, NASS, USDA.
Nonresidential Travel Report, Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, University of Montana-Missoula.
Potts, Thomas and Thomas Rourke, Nature-Based Tourism Enterprises, Guidelines for Success, Clemson University, 2000.
Save Big on Rising Wedding Costs, Smart Money, 2010.
Statistics for the Wedding Industry, Association for Wedding Professionals.
Survey of California Agritourism Operators, Small Farm Program, University of California Cooperative Extension, 2009 - This presentation was given at the National Extension Tourism Conference in June 2009.
Travel Statistics, U.S. Travel Association.
U.S. Census of Agriculture, USDA. Table 7. Income from farm-related sources.
Wedding Industry is $48 Billion in 2011, IBIS World, 2011.
Wolfe, Kent, and Rob Holland, Considerations for an Agritainment Enterprise in Georgia, University of Georgia Extension, 2002.