Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Consider benefits of tourism 'on the farm'

This fall, farmers will be diligently harvesting their crops: corn, soybeans, sugarbeets and…tourists.


Tourists? Yes. Families, motor coach tour groups, couples out for a weekend drive, and grandparents with grandchildren will be discovering a variety of new experiences on the farm.


According to the 2009 Census of Agriculture, 367 Minnesota  farms  were involved in "agritourism and recreational services." Those farms generated approximately $8 million in income from their tourism efforts.


A 2009 survey of farmers conducted by the University of Minnesota Tourism Center found that 30 percent already have some type of agritourism business. Funded by the Carlson Travel, Tourism and Hospitality Chair,  the survey also found that another 30 percent of farmers are planning for an agritourism operation as part of their farm business by 2014. 


While producers view their agritourism operations as a way to supplement their farm incomes, they also see it as a means of educating the public about the importance of agriculture and as a way to build relationships between rural and urban communities.


Agritourism encompasses a variety of activities such as farm stays, bird watching, farm festivals, pumpkin patches, school tours, corn mazes and wine trails. While many agritourism enterprises are associated with smaller operations, learning tours of larger farm operations and agricultural processing plants can also be included.


One area of agritourism that has gained recognition in Minnesota during the last few years is wine-related tourism. The development of four different cold hardy grape varieties by the University of Minnesota has led to increasing numbers of vineyards and wineries in the state, with 35 licensed wineries at last count. 


Concentrated in the central and southern areas of the state, Minnesota wineries are becoming known for their quality. In 2008, grape production, wine production, and wine tourism accounted for a total economic impact of $36 million. Besides tastings and product sales, wineries offer a variety of music, art, vineyard tours and special events which provide opportunities for other sectors of the local tourism industry to build upon, such as lodging, restaurants and attractions.


Minnesota agritourism operators provide a variety of experiences that will inform and entertain visitors while providing income for their farms. 


The University of Minnesota Tourism Center is a collaboration of University of Minnesota Extension and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. 


For more research and educational resources on strengthening local tourism opportunities, visit www.tourism.umn.edu. Learn about other Extension programs in community economics at www.extension.umn.edu/community. - Kent Gustafson is a tourism educator with University of Minnesota Extension.

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