Profile updated October 2016
According to the U.S. Travel Association, travel and tourism is a $947 billion industry in the United States that has directly generated more than 8.1 million jobs. The U.S. travel industry ranks as the seventh largest employer and among the top 10 industries in 49 states, including the District of Columbia, when measured by employment. Travel and tourism generates $147.9 billion in tax revenue for federal, state and local governments, with the restaurant industry accounting for the majority of this economic activity.
An increasingly popular and growing opportunity for agricultural producers is agritourism. This is generally defined as activities that include visiting a working farm or any agricultural, horticultural or agribusiness operation to enjoy the rural setting, be educated, or be involved in a special activity.
The U.S. Census of Agriculture clearly shows an increasing trend in agritourism and related recreational services. Between the 2007 and 2012 censuses, 10,249 farms grossing $546-million in income increased to 13,334 farms grossing $674-million. Farms with gross farm receipts of $25,000 or more, increased from 3,637 farms to 4,518. This strongly suggests that the rural United States is a popular tourist destination.
If you decide to develop an operation, it is critical that you undertake something that you understand and are passionate about, and that the scale of the undertaking fits your lifestyle. Once that is done, it is extremely important to develop a marketing plan that looks at the available demographic you hope to attract and ways to use targeted communications to reach them. Much of your marketing will be word-of-mouth from satisfied customers. In this age of social media and instant messaging, “quality-of-product” and “quality-of-service” are critical considerations with respect to promoting your business and generating new and repeat customers. New customers grow your business; satisfied repeat customers sustain and market your business to another wave of new customers.
Agritourism includes many areas of outdoor recreation, retreat, education, accommodation or entertainment. A few examples of agritourism are:
- Retreat and rendezvous centers;
- Nature centers;
- Farm tours for families and school children;
- Farm-based lodging and cross-country ski or snowshoe trails;
- Children’s educational day camps;
- Country overnight bed and breakfasts;
- Bird or big-game hunting preserves;
- Bird and wildlife watching;
- Corn mazes and haunted forests;
- Petting farms;
- Hands-on U-pick;
- Horse-back, hay, sleigh, vintage tractor, snow-machine or sled-dog rides.
- Farmers Markets;
- Rural weddings;
When starting an agritourism business there are several issues to consider. University specialists suggest that you closely examine the following three factors:
- Define the "attraction” that will draw initial, then repeat, customers;
- Research your competitors and cooperators (how do you fit into the existing agritourism landscape), identify a support and advisory team of state and industry professionals;
- Develop a simple feasibility study, then a business and marketing plan;
- Have your feasibility study, business and marketing plans reviewed by a knowledgeable third party (industry, trade organization or extension professional);
- Review other issues such as insurance, labor and biosecurity (especially if food is involved).
- Develop a risk-management plan (first-aid availability, emergency contacts and procedures).
Additional tourism or marketing opportunities may interfere with normal farm activities. Having visitors on your property means dealing with the public, which increases the farm’s risk and liability; also, the enterprise may require more employees (additional employee or sub-contractor labor costs). Local, state and federal regulations will need to be addressed on such topics 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.
Close proximity to a significant population center is another important factor. Additionally, 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.
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. On-farm sales of products such as maple syrup and maple products, Christmas trees, fruits, vegetables, cut flowers, nursery products, cheese and an assortment of other items are common sources of additional income generation.
With respect to agritourism across the United States, several states are profound examples of the value of the industry. 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.
In Montana 10.5 million nonresidents visited 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 one state survey, 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 received income from agritourism compared to 29 percent of farms with 150 or more acres.
First Statewide Agritourism Survey Yields Early Results, Small Farm News, Small Farm Center, University of California, 2009
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
New England Agricultural Statistics, NASS, USDA.
Survey of California Agritourism Operators, Small Farm Program, University of California Cooperative Extension, 2009
U.S. Census of Agriculture, USDA (2007, 2012). Table 7. Income From Farm-Related Sources.
Wolfe, Kent, and Rob Holland, Considerations for an Agritainment Enterprise in Georgia, University of Georgia Extension, 2002.
Considerations for Agritourism Development, Sea Grant New York, 2000
Links Checked June 2018.