Revised May 2022
According to the U.S. Travel Association, travel and tourism is a $1,127 billion industry in the United States that has directly generated more than 9 million jobs. An increasingly popular and growing opportunity for agricultural producers is agritourism.
The U.S. Census of Agriculture shows an increasing trend in agritourism and related recreational services as well as direct sales of agricultural products. The Census of Agriculture first used the term “agri-tourism” in 2007 with a question about “agri-tourism and recreational services such as farm or winery tours, hay rides, hunting, fishing, etc.” Using this limited definition, agritourism income grew by 67% over 10 years (between 2007 and 2017) and more than doubled when including direct sales of agricultural products, which is viewed as an important part of agritourism by many definitions. According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, 28,575 farms offered agritourism and recreational services resulting in $949 million in sales. In addition, direct-to-consumer sales brought in $2.8 billion in sales for 130,056 farms. The next Census of Agriculture will be performed in 2022.
An agritourism business can be defined as any person, farm, or corporation actively engaged in the operation, management, or promotion of an agriculturally-related tourism business open to the public. Examples of agritourism activities include but are not limited to:
- U-pick farms give customers a hands-on farm experience by inviting them to come pick products from the field to purchase and take home. Common types of products offered at u-pick farms include fruits, vegetables, pumpkins, flowers, and Christmas trees.
- On-farm markets
- On-farm markets give customers the opportunity to come purchase produce and/or products on the farm property. Common types of farm markets include farm stands (outdoor booth on the farm) and farm stores (enclosed store on the farm).
- Pumpkin Patches
- Farms that grow and sell pumpkins. On-farm pumpkin patches often sell their pumpkins as a u-pick and/or through an on-farm market.
- Corn mazes
- A maze cut out in a cornfield that customers can navigate through.
- Vineyards and wineries
- Farms and businesses engaged in growing grapes for wine and/or wine making. Many wineries provide on-farm entertainment including, but not limited to, wine-tastings, wine-trails, music, and on-farm dinners.
- Floriculture farms
- A flower farm that invites visitors to come see or experience the flower crop in the field. Floriculture farms may host events and workshops, provide a flower u-pick and offer photography opportunities.
- Demonstration farms
- A working farm that invites visitors on their property to see or experience the farm. Examples of demonstration farms include but are not limited to dairies, conservation farms, and cattle ranches.
- Christmas tree farms
- A farm that invites customers to pick or buy Christmas trees on their farm.
- Farm stays
- Farm stays invite visitors to stay on a farm property.
- Farm tours
- A farm that engages with visitors by giving them a tour of their farm.
- Farm camps
- An educational opportunity for kids to come experience a farm and engage in agriculture practices.
- Farm-to-table dining
- On-farm dining experience, often including a specialty chef, farm fresh food, and entertainment.
- Equine Agritourism
- Opportunities for visitors to come interact with horses on the farm. Types of equine agritourism can include trail riding, horseback riding lessons, dude ranches, horse camps, boarding facilities, and equine therapy farms.
- Fee and Lease Pond Fishing
- Landowners opening up their pond to visitors for fishing.
- Hunting Leases
- Landowners inviting visitors on their land to hunt usually for a fee.
Best Management Practices for an agritourism business include:
- Providing an authentic farm or ranch experience
- Providing an educational experience
- Providing excellent customer service
- Providing adequate public facilities
- Maintaining a safe and accessible environment
- Creating good community relations
- Planning for your financial future
When starting an agritourism business or assessing your existing operation, consult the available resources and consider the following best management practices:
- Authentic Farm or Ranch Experience - Agritourism provides visitors with an educational experience aside from one that is solely commercial. It is important to keep in mind that your farm/ranch is often the “face of farming and ranching” in your community, region, or state. A product you offer to visitors may be the experience of farm or ranch living. It is also important to understand what aspects of agriculture your local associations (agricultural, tourism, and marketing) emphasize in your region so that you can develop your own niche in coordination with other farms and attractions nearby.
- Educational Experience - Farms and ranches can offer an agriculturally-oriented educational experience suitable for different ages. Food and fiber production, land stewardship, and history of agriculture are common topics that visitors enjoy learning about. Another way to diversify your operation and educate guests may be on-property recreational activities (e.g., fishing, hunting, trail riding, cross-country skiing, or hiking).
- Customer Service - This should be an integral part of your business planning. Training your staff to interact with customers in an appropriate way will ensure a safe and high quality experience for customers. It also ensures these customers will return and tell other potential customers about your business.
- Adequate Public Facilities - Your farm/ranch needs to have sufficient capacity (staff and infrastructure) to provide basic services such as parking, transportation, signage, customer assistance, education, and roads. In order to maintain a safe and customer friendly business, provision of services and facilities like restrooms becomes necessary.
- Safe and Accessible Environment - You should ensure that your property and facilities are maintained and in compliance with zoning, health, food safety, and environmental regulations. It is useful as well to create a risk management plan for your farm/ranch. In addition, depending on your type of business, consider compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which mandates equal customer access to certain facilities (entrances, exits, and bathrooms).
- Community Relations - To create good community relations, it is important to regularly provide opportunities for organized groups and individuals in your community to visit your property (e.g., schools and business associations).
- Planning for your Financial Future - Regularly review your business plan and appropriately add value (price) to all farm/ranch services, products, and experiences in order to provide for the long-term sustainability of your business.
What is your farm story? How you market and promote your farm is an essential part of managing your business. Telling your story, having a clear mission and creating a culture for customers to engage in will help develop an environment where customers feel welcome. It is important that you understand and are passionate about the agritourism business you are promoting.
Start by developing a marketing plan. Who is your target audience? What experience and education do you want to share with them? How are you going to communicate with them? Thinking about your target audience will help you narrow down your best marketing channels. Having an online presence through websites, blogs, social media, e-newsletters, and Google is a great way to reach a broad audience. It is important to keep your business information updated on a regular basis. Other forms of marketing may include print-ads, mailers, cooperative marketing, tourism organizations, and agritourism/farm associations.
A powerful business marketing tool is reviews from satisfied customers. Whether it is by word-of-mouth, social media, or Google reviews, satisfied customers will be an asset to your business. New customers grow your business; satisfied repeat customers sustain and market your business to another wave of customers.
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. A list of resources and organizations supporting agritourism can be found here.
Farmers and ranchers are legally responsible (liable) for the well-being of their customers and employees. Considering safety and minimizing risk are important parts of business planning.
To protect your agritourism business, it is important to create a risk management plan. Some of the main areas of risk and negligence include site safety risk, product risk, employee related risk, and financial risk. To ensure the well-being of your business, it is recommended that you avoid certain activities, use liability waivers, purchase insurance, practice good management techniques, train employees, and pay attention to the legal structure of your business.
Checklist for Managing Risk
- Contact State or Local Agritourism Organizations and Key Consultants
- Key consultants to determine your needs are lawyers, insurance agents, financial managers, and accountants.
- Understand Local and State Health and Safety Laws, Zoning and Regulations
- Before you start implementing any business plans it is critical that you review local, state and federal laws and regulations; such as zoning, signage, employee tax withholding, food-related inspections, licenses or fees, and the risk management planning associated with animal exhibits and animal-human health concerns. Contact your county planning department to learn about your property’s zoning requirements and to figure out what permits you may need.
- Inventory Areas of Possible Risk
- Site Safety: Consider physical site hazards including visitor activities and attractive nuisances such as farm equipment likely to attract children.
- Product: Consider what you are selling or producing and any health or safety regulations or considerations
- Employee related: Know your employees and know what will be required on-site to safeguard their health and safety
- Financial: Consider current record-keeping, billing processes, assets and debts
- Develop a Risk Management Plan
- Site Safety and Signage
- Post rules for customers and conduct regular inspections
- Post and implement employee rules and regulations
- Using proper signage can help reduce liability, but it does not remove liability.
- Establish a labeling protocol for products
- Establish a protocol based on state regulations for handling products
- Decide on the right type and amount of insurance coverage.
- Business liability
- Product liability
- Workers’ compensation
- It is important to have a good insurance policy and a good working relationship with your insurance agent.
- Consider using preventative measures like waivers or product warnings if warranted.
- Site Safety and Signage
Understand your state’s laws relating to your property and business. Work with a trusted lawyer to see that your farm is set up for success.
Risk Management Education for Farmers with On-Farm Visitors, Iowa State University Extension & Outreach
This online curriculum offers information and tools to enhance the safety and health of an on-farm operation that allows visitors on their property. Participation in this program will lead to new skills and techniques to implement practical management solutions on your farm.
Agritourism Safety and Health Best Practices Checklists, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
Risk Management Planning
Risk Management Planning for Agritourism, University of Vermont Extension
“Don’t Break A Leg… Managing Risks on Your Small Farm,” “Managing Marketing Risks” and other Risk Management Articles. The Small Farms Program-Cornell University
Health and Safety Guidelines
National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (NIOSH) Toll-Free: 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) TTY: (888) 232-6348
North American Farmer’s Direct Marketing Association - Member’s liability insurance list, 62 White Loaf Road, Southhampton, MA 01073, 413-529-0386
National Center for Agricultural Law, Research, & Information, University of Arkansas, School of Law, 479-575-7646
How to Host Weddings (PDF)
U.S. Travel Association, 2019. U.S. Travel and Tourism Overview
U.S. Census of Agriculture, USDA (2012, 2017). Table 6&7. Income From Farm-Related Sources
Vermont Agritourism Collaborative, University of Vermont Extension
USDA Risk Management Education Agency - Develops educational materials for 50 states.
National Ag Risk Library, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, Toll-free 800-234-1111
Regional Risk Management Education Centers
Northeast Center for Risk Management Education, University of Delaware, 302-831-2538
North Central Risk Mgmt Education Ctr, University of Nebraska, 402-472-2235
Southern Region Risk Mgmt Education Ctr, University of Arkansas, 501-671-2175
Western Center for Risk Management Education, Washington State Univ., 509-335-6360
Information and Technical Assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act
Your State’s: Department or Agency of Agriculture, State Agritourism Organization, Department of Marketing or Tourism, University Cooperative Extension Service, and directories from the National Association of Resource Conservation and Development Councils, and Natural Resources Conservation Service.