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Economic Importance of Agritourism is Growing

September 2023

Visitors to a lavender festival earlier this year were able to enjoy the Beliveau Farm Estate Winery’s view. They could look over the 165-acre property that features a vineyard, visible in the background; a bed and breakfast; the wedding and event venue; a lavender farm; hiking trails; a stocked pond; and picnicking spots. (Photo by Jane W. Graham)

by Jane W. Graham, The Delmarva Farmer 

As the year’s main agritourism season approaches, its importance in Virginia’s agriculture and forestry industries is rapidly growing. Agritourism operations in the commonwealth are as diverse as the farms that have used the practice to diversify.
In Virginia, where there are 43,000 farms, about 10 percent are engaged in some form of agritourism, the most recent available data shows, said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matt Lohr.
He said the USDA in 2017 called agritourism a $1 billion dollar industry nationally and that it was responsible for a $2.2 billion overall economic impact.
“It’s growing,” Lohr said. “Every year there is an increase.”
“Farms are inviting visitors to tour a vineyard, enjoy hayrides, buy their produce, and eat ice cream made from the local dairy’s milk,” Virginia Cooperative Extension reports.
The addition of agritourism on a traditional farm to these activities requires development of new skills, said Candace Monaghan of Beaver Dam Farm.
Since 2016, when her family with a dairy farm added sunflowers to their beef and hay production, she has learned to deal with the public.
“It’s a huge adjustment,” she said.
Farmers know what they are doing in their own operation, she said, and most of the public has no idea of how farmers grow things or run their business. This means much of the project is becoming an educator, helping visitors understand a bit about farming.
Monaghan talked on the phone, telling of what she has learned, the day before the farm’s annual Sunflower Festival started. This event attracts an average of 20,000 annually to view the sunflowers in bloom. The crop will be harvested for bird feed at the end of the season.
Lohr wears two hats and speaks with authority about agritourism, having both a career in Virginia government’s oversight of agriculture and forestry and being part of a family that was engaged in agritourism.
He said from 2000 to 2013, his family had Christmas trees and a large-scale pumpkin patch and corn maze, among other activities. School trips were another part of the experience at the Lohr farm that attracted as many as 15,000 visitors a year.
Lohr credited his late wife Andrea, who died 11 years ago, with much of the success of their agritourism venture that still gives him fond memories.
“Agritourism is so special,” he said. “You can do so many things. It benefits the farm owner, it keeps the farm in the family, it benefits the customers, giving them a chance to get out of the city and into the country. It’s a great benefit to farmers and customers.”
A benefit of agritourism not often mentioned is that it unites different parts of the agriculture industry, forming geographically wide-reaching communities to promote products. Groups such as the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association and the Mt. Rogers Christmas Tree Growers Association, Pumpkin Growers and the New River Valley Sheep and Goat Club are examples.
With all the benefits of agritourism, there is also the many business necessities associated with agriculture.
“Farm owners get excited about starting an agritourism operation and having people come out to visit their farm. That’s the fun part,” Scott DeNoon said in the April 2023 edition of Virginia Farm Bureau News. “But don’t get so caught up in the excitement of inviting guests onto your farm that you forget to get adequate insurance coverage. If something unforeseen happens, you don’t want to be stuck without it.”
DeNoon stressed that a farm owner policy will not cover liability claims for an agribusiness operation.
“An agritourism endorsement needs to be added to an existing farm owner policy to cover additional pursuits that involved the generally public,” he said.
He noted the Farm Bureau has the ability to insure 74 different agritourism events.
His advice to those engaged in agritourism is “consult your insurance agent.”