Agri-Tourism – A Resource For Economic Growth
Posted: November 1, 2012
What is Agri-Tourism? Agri-tourism is a way farm businesses can reach consumers by emphasizing their unique location, products, landscape and farm personality. Customers are able to see where the goods they buy are produced, get to know the farmer and have an opportunity to partake in activities the farm offers as a way to engage visitors. From the distant city it becomes a worthwhile trip to the “country” when so much is offered at one location. Farmers can tap into new markets using the agri-tourism business model. Although corn mazes are still popular attractions, a wide range of activities, anything from apple picking, farm-stay vacations to zip-lining, can be found on farms aiming to engage consumers and entice the m to visit their operation. Through agri-tourism, a farm’s and a community’s goals, such as alternative agriculture, value-added agriculture, direct farm marketing and rural community development, also are often met.
Alternative agriculture addresses sustainability practices, many of which are already incorporated into mainstream agriculture, such as growing crops according to what can be sustained on a particular soil and focusing on niche crops for niche markets. Consumers increasingly place value on sustainable practices. Farmers who are able to directly engage with the customers and show them how these practices are implemented on the farm may have an advantage. Adding value to products simply means taking what was raised or grown, for example milk and apples, and processing them into cheese and apple butter. Shelf-life is increased and the financial return on the product is greater. Direct Farm marketing creates an opportunity for farmers to sell their products to the consumer at retail market prices rather than selling into the wholesale market. Growers reap the financial rewards of earning more for their effort and consumers get to know their producers to boot. Lastly, agri-tourism can be seen as another way to diversify local economies and support rural community development.
The Challenges…A state wide industry assessment, performed by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania in 2006, gave a broad view of both the challenges and opportunities of agri-tourism in a rural community. Despite the many opportunities for growth and economic development, there are concerns that were raised by those surveyed in the assessment. Inflation of property values and of prices on goods and services are both economic concerns. As with any development, local residents also fear increases in traffic, crime and stresses on the job market. Decrease in community services and loss of privacy were also cited. Environmental concerns such as changes to the landscape, pollution and loss of producing farmland to tourism were also among the issues that were raised in the assessment.
…at the Farm… Looking at this niche market from the operator’s perspective, there are many challenges to deal with when diversifying their farm to take advantage of the agri-tourism market. According to the 2006 assessment, 8% of respondents cited high insurance and liability costs as the most difficult hurdle when developing agri-tourism at their operations. Other difficulties named included taxes, competition, geography, labor issues, land use/regulations and marketing challenges. The number one barrier to attracting tourists identified by operators was isolated or remote location of their farm.
…and the Opportunities of Agri-Tourism...Yet when surveyed, 66% of agri-tourists stated they stayed more than one night while visiting an area. They spent an average of $120 while visiting, which included accommodations, food, retail and other expenses. For 75% of these individuals, pleasure trumped business as to the reason for their trip. All of these would indicate a promising economic incentive for a community. Pennsylvania as a whole also has several notable strengths that can work in its favor in attracting visitors. the naturally scenic. highly attractive landscape and many historic regions already attract visiitors, while the close urban areas are a pllo of potential markets.
Upcoming Community Forum... If you are interested in contributing to the conversation about the future of agri-tourism in Adams County, consider attending the Community Forum to be held in the community center on Chestnut St. in Arendtsville on November 13, from 6:30pm – 8:00pm. The focus of this forum will be on agri-tourism in our county and will allow for community members to express their ideas and give input about the topic. Several viewpoints on the subject will also be presented including (among others): Kathy Glahn of the Farmers Market Association, Jim Schupp from the Fruit Research and Extension Center, a representative from the Adams County Visitors Bureau and the potential role of agri-tourism in the economic development plan of Adams County will be addressed. The forum is meant to be a platform for public conversation and Adams County community members are encouraged to attend.
Catherine Lara is the Specialty Crop Innovations Program Manager and Young Grower Alliance Coordinator for Penn State Cooperative Extension in Adams County. Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce. Penn State Extension in Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Rd, Suite 204, Gettysburg, PA 17325, phone 334-6271 or (888) 472-0261, email AdamsExt@psu.edu.