Public support for agritourism growing, slowly
In a decade-long look, from 2007 to 2017, researchers at Penn State found more and more farmers are participating in agritourism – but overall, fewer than 1.5% of farmers are involved in the enterprise today.
Claudia Schmidt, assistant professor of agricultural economics at Penn State, spoke about agritourism support indicators for the U.S. at the most recent International Workshop on Agritourism. As the income-earning option grows, it has migrated toward bigger population areas and the coasts, Schmidt noted.
“Place-based factors play a role, but its growth is also based on government and community support,” she said.
But who are the key players in an agritourism support system? And what functions do they play? The support system includes strong marketing, consumer demand, research-focused support, human capital and legal support and development.
Schmidt’s team polled 33 agritourism experts and found that since 2007, more agencies at all levels are more interested in supporting the concept – and regulating it.
“It’s not a level playing field for regulation,” Schmidt stated. In many places, there are county and state regulations, but nothing national. And as of the time of her presentation, she noted that 11 states have no legal definition of agritourism.
Just because the government as a whole is lacking cohesiveness on this topic doesn’t mean financial support is missing. In speaking about agritourism public funding, Schmidt said that since 1997 the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program has funded 18 agritourism projects nationally through its four regions for a total of $1.1 million. The lion’s share of the money went to the southern region (38%) and the Northeast (33%).
USDA’s Risk Management Education Center has funded 27 agritourism-focused projects since 1997, half of which were in the western U.S. The Ag Department’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has funded 11 projects between 2006 and 2020 with a total value of about $2.5 million.
“This is a novel funding opportunity,” Schmidt said of public/government funding. “But it depends on how active researchers are in the different regions.”
Fortunately, most states have agritourism Extension programs, and the National Extension Tourism Network is also working to build support.
Until then, pay attention to what ag-focused nonprofits or agencies are offering in the way of workshops, grants or other supports for your agritourism enterprise.
by Courtney Llewellyn
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