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Information for Farmers on the Business of Agritourism

  • Introduction
  • Your Enterprise
  • Your Risk Management Plan
  • Hospitality Training

Why Agritourism?

Tourism is now the largest industry in the world. According to the US Travel Association direct spending on leisure travel by domestic and international travelers totaled $526 billion in 2010. The top leisure travel activities for U.S. domestic travelers are: visiting relatives; shopping; visiting friends; rural sightseeing; and travel to beaches. Farm visits give travelers the opportunity to both shop and enjoy rural sightseeing. There's a market for Agritourism that New Jersey farmers are in prime position to take advantage of as farmers on the urban fringe.

Cost-Price Squeeze (the rapid rise of production input costs while market prices received stagnate) is experienced by many farms in our state. Agritourism can provide an additional cash flow stream allowing for improved financial risk management. Growing numbers of farmers worldwide are embracing agritourism to improve their economic viability.

Meredith & Jeremy Compton, shown above interacting with visitors to their farm Peaceful Valley Orchards , started their agritourism adventure in 2001 with pick-your-own apples. Before farming full time, they both spent many years in agriculture gaining hands-on experience and saving for their start up operation. Their operation now includes the farm market with seasonal fruits and vegetables; jellies, jams, & pies; u-pick flowers, apples, & pumpkins; wagon rides; and farm camp complete with crafting activities and friendly sheep, goats, and cows. They have a deep connection with their community and are a host farm for America's Grow a Row.
Peaceful Valley OrchardIt's hard, rewarding work - and they have a passion for it.

Is Agritourism Right for Me?

You may be a master at producing the best pumpkin crop in the county, but this may not make you the best candidate for running an agritourism operation. You will be crossing over into the tourism and hospitality industry. There will be new components to your business operation. There are a number of questions you should ask and honestly answer when you are considering to operate an agritourism operation. The questions will go beyond the land resources and machinery you have. They will include questions about your personality traits, time constraints, and financial resources.

Qualifying and Quantifying Your Personal Agritourism Potential and Is an Agritourism Venture Right for Your Farm? are a good starting points to determine if you want to proceed down the road to agritourism.

Selecting an Agritourism Venture

If you've decided agritourism is worth exploring, consider is what type of agritourism venture best fits your farm family lifestyle and current operation.
Let's look at some options.

U Pick

Pick-Your-Own Operation

Many producers are experiencing success using a pick-your-own business model. This type of operation combines the sale of an agricultural product with the experience of harvesting a crop. A successful pick-your-own operation provides a great family atmosphere while providing the opportunity for additional sales, reduced labor costs and return visits. Some common examples include: choose and cut Christmas trees, pumpkin picking, and U-pick flowers, fresh fruits, and vegetables.

Farm Stay

Farm Stays

Successful farm stays offer consumers a taste of the farm lifestyle. The activities offered can vary greatly ranging from a farm-based vacation or bed & breakfast to a working experience where guests participate in the day to day farming activities.

corn maze

Agritainment

Agritainment operations focus on creating an enjoyable experience for visitors in the form of seasonal family day trips. Examples include: corn mazes, haunted hay rides, and pumpkin trails.

Value-Added Products

Value-Added Products

While most agritourism opportunities are seasonal with the majority occurring during the production season, or centered on specific holidays, value-added products don't necessarily have those restrictions. Producing value-added products from perishable agricultural products provides an opportunity for producers to expand their sales season or to increase the value of their products through processing or packaging. Some examples include: jellies and jams, pre-packaged salads, and locally produced meats.

Students learn about potatoes

Educational Visits

The farm is an ideal location for an educational experience. Many consumers want to learn how and where their food is produced. Educational tourism provides adults and students alike a chance to learn "hands-on." Successful producers incorporate educational visits with other agritourism enterprises to increase public support for agriculture while also increasing profitability. Examples include: farm tours, school educational trips and seminars related to crop production.

Farmer Young

On-Farm Recreation

The land associated with agricultural production offers visitors a wide variety of recreational opportunities. Successful producers have taken advantage of this through fee-based activities such as hunting and fishing, nature walks, birding and horseback riding.

Next: Your Enterprise >>

As an owner operator of an agritourism enterprise you are legally responsible for the well-being of customers and employees. Create a risk management plan to minimize exposure to the main areas of risk and negligence including site safety risk, product risk, employee related risk, and financial risk. Risk management experts recommend avoiding certain activities, using liability waivers, purchasing insurance, practicing good management techniques, training employees, and paying attention to the legal structure of your business.

Risk Management Action Plan

  • Contact consultants knowledgeable in determining risk management needs, i.e. lawyers, insurance agents, financial managers, and accountants.
    • Meet with your legal team - lawyer & insurance agent. Fully disclose your plans for your agritourism enterprise. Decide on the right type and amount of insurance coverage.
      • Business liability
      • Product liability
      • Workers’ compensation
      • Consider using preventative measures like legal team approved waivers or product warnings if warranted.
  • Gain an understanding of the health and safety laws and regulations that apply to your operation. Agencies able to provide information are:
    • State Agencies or Departments of Health/Agriculture
    • County/Municipal Health Departments
    • County Extension Offices
    • Zoning or Planning Boards
    • Economic Development Offices
    • Tourism or Visitors Bureaus
    • Chambers of Commerce
    • Secretary of State’s Office
    • Tax Commission or Department
    • U.S. Department of Agriculture
    • Agritourism Organizations and Cooperatives
    • State Farm Bureau Federations
  • Assess your operation for existing or potential risks; eliminate or reduce them as much as possible.
    • Site Safety: Consider physical site hazards including visitor activities and attractive nuisances such as farm equipment likely to attract children.
    • Product Safety: Consider what health and safety regulations apply to your products or items you are selling.
    • 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.
  • Carry Out Your Risk Management Plan. Utilize comprehensive workbooks such as the Agritourism Policies and Procedures Guide and Agritourism Worksite Walkthrough Checklist Guide. This checklist will get you started thinking about the various actions to take:
    • Site
      • Post rules for customers and conduct regular inspections
      • Post and implement employee rules and regulations
      • Prepare for crowds
      • Complete parking plan
      • Restroom facilities: installed and functioning
      • Block off bodies of water
      • Activities: well planned and tested by a “trial run through”
      • Buildings, sheds and barns: hazardous buildings demolished
      • Non-functioning farm machinery or equipment are cleared away out of sight from visitors
      • Functioning equipment is stored in buildings
      • Functioning equipment in sight of visitors has keys removed and steps/ladders folded up
      • Buildings to be used in operation are prepared for visitors
      • Smoke detectors: installed and working
      • Carbon monoxide detectors: installed and working
      • Farm shops, repair facilities, personal living space, space considered private area: clearly blocked off from the public by using signs, fences, and or roping.
      • Farm and garden chemicals: stored and locked
      • Unsafe animals secured away from public view and contact
      • Food area is NOT located near animal viewing areas
      • All animals to be used in the business are vaccinated and healthy
      • Manure handling facilities complete
    • Products
      • Establish a labeling protocol for products
      • Establish a protocol based on state regulations for handling products
    • Employees
      • Address safety & health issues
      • Complete Job safety training
      • Complete CPR and first aid classes (you and employees)
      • First aid kit intact

Sources: Checklist: Risk Management Plan & Risk Management & Liability in Agritourism.

Next: Hospitality Training >>

Hospitality Training for You and Your Employees

Happy customers are key to a successful agritourism business. Knowing how to make customers happy comes naturally for some people - but not all. Learn how to exceed the expectations of your visitors and teach your employees to do the same.

What do customers look for?

Friendliness of staff 71%  
Activities at business 58%  
Farm animals 33%  
Barns & Historic Buildings 32%  
Restaurant or Snack Bar 24%  
Gift shop 16%  
Kuehn, D., Hilchey, D. New York State's 1999 Agritourism Business Study.

If agritourism is already part of your operation, take this self assessment survey to see how your customer service skills rate. If you are just beginning in agritourism, Hospitality - Your Keys to Success is an in depth look at what to consider to succeed in agritourism.

Finally, take a look at your agritourism operation through the eyes of your visitor. Understanding the Customer Experience suggests strategies to create memorable experiences for your visitors. Remember to enjoy the journey on the road to your new venture.

One Happy Customer