Agri-tourism: why you should open the gates of your farm

Agri-tourism is a niche industry yet fast-growing as consumers return to being more and more connected with the environment and the origins of products. Opening the gates of your farm to visitors – and ultimately, to consumers – can bring a number of financial, educational and social benefits for your visitors, yourself and your local community.

What is agri-tourism?

Basically, agri-tourism is defined as the integration of tourism and agriculture, involving any agriculturally based operation that brings visitors to a farm or ranch. Agritourism can include a very wide range of activities, including buying produce direct from a farm stand, navigating a corn maze, slopping hogs, picking fruit, feeding animals, or staying at a bed and breakfast on a farm.

Agri-tourism is developing fast in many parts of the world, especially in Europe, Australia, Canada, the United States, and the Philippines.

If for some farms or ranches, agri-tourism has become a major part of the business activity (including reducing their acreage, running less stock or growing fewer crops but capturing more consumer dollars), it doesn’t have to be a big and complex development to be profitable. Visitors are willing to pay for these experiences as long as the price is reasonable and they find value in what is being offered. Agri-tourism provides farmers and ranchers with an additional income source that allows them to keep farming and increase the quality of life for their families.

Why agri-tourism is developing so fast?

Tourists are stepping off the beaten track and treading new paths, embracing local culture, food, flora and fauna. In some ways, the COVID-19 crisis has created a “boom” in the industry with travel restrictions in place, people are keen on having local holidays instead of traveling on the other side of the world.

Agri-tourism caters to this rising demand for valuable experiences, by offering insight into (often otherwise unseen) industries. Visitors also understand that additional revenue streams can be fundamental for the continued success of small, sustainable farms and producers who are now competing in a global market space and face competition from industrial operations, that are often able to produce more at less cost.

Millennials in particular, who are the consumers of tomorrow, are increasingly receptive to more sustainable ways of thinking and research shows they look to industry leaders to support them in this. Hence my previous article about the growing interest for YouTube channels talking about farming. In a 2018 survey of 1,000 UK and USA consumers by Futerra, 88% said they would like brands to help them live more sustainably – and that shouldn’t exclude travel and tourism.

Who benefits of agri-tourism?

Everyone benefits from agri-tourism. Travellers, yourself and in some cases, the planet. You also become a key contributor to the local tourism economy, attracting a higher volume of visitors and increasing the length of their stay (and therefore spend). This isn’t just great for your business, but it feels great to be contributing to smaller, local economies.

Opening the gates of your farm for interactive farm tours and workshop is a good way to spread a better understanding of the importance of sustainable farming practices. In contrast, the input costs of sustainable farming methods can be substantial, with less consistent, guaranteed yield (and therefore income). This can cause major financial strain, which agri-tourism can help alleviate.

Is agri-tourism the right choice for my farm/ranch?

The cost and scope of an agri-tourism model really vary by agricultural business taking into account mixed factors to create a unique business model.

A dairy farm might decide to make site tours available to schools at a small subsidy, giving students the chance to see milk coming from cow’s udders and apply classroom learning through interactive experiences. Alternatively, it might be a complementary enterprise that sees a portion of your produce allocated to wholesalers, while the remainder is reserved for onsite activity – ‘pick your own fruit’ for example, or cheese making workshops at a farm.

Some have found the latter to be so successful that it’s become their primary enterprise; a number of European and North American farmers are now generating significant income through a rapidly growing ‘staycation’ market. Camping, shepherd’s huts, yurts and compact pods have a small set up cost and can generate significant profit per square meter/foot.

13 tips to get started with agri-tourism

If you think that agri-tourism could be the right choice for you, here are a few tips to get started!

  1. Evaluate thoroughly your time and skillset and those of family members who will help.
  2. Make sure there is a project manager to plan the enterprise, it can be yourself or anyone else involved in your business such as a family number or a trusted employee.
  3. Agri-tourism involves meeting people and welcoming strangers on your own property. Make sure there is an enthusiastic, energetic person involved that likes interacting with people.
  4. Start with solid, well thought out ideas for activities you will offer.
  5. Get well organised, plan the activities thoroughly before opening.
  6. Start small. It is not necessary to be big to be successful. Collect feedback from your visitors to improve.
  7. Grow a little each year, take one step at the time, no point with rushing into things.
  8. Know your target audience (who you want to attract) and what they expect. Your local travel or tourism offices can help you, and you can also ask your local chambers of agriculture.
  9. Tailor promotion to specific audiences. You may think that marketing materials are expensive, but it is essential to promote your business as people need to know that you exist. You can apply for local or government grants. 
  10. Offer something to see, do and buy. Your business model can be adjusted according to what you offer: you can make people pay for a visit, or you can offer a free service (such as an open paddock for campervans) but open a farm shop where people are likely to spend money on your products.
  11. Set goals so you can measure progress and track costs vs returns. You can use various indicators such as income, number of visitors etc.
  12. Minimize all the potential risks, plan for emergencies. Again, seek help from your local chambers of agriculture, they can point you to the right direction and you can get free advice.
  13. Have fun! You need to be happy with your new activity. And remember that it is ok to stop if you are not fully satisfied.