PROMOTE YOUR FARM AS AN AGRITOURISM DESTINATION

Promote Your Farm as an Agritourism Destination

Since childhood, most non-farmers equate red barns, animals in pastures, blue overalls, and pitchforks with their idea of a farm. Many paying tourists will seek a destination that meets that image, to experience it first hand. Many want to see the farm they knew in their bedtime storybook. Agritourism destinations that meet this expectation will be rewarded with plenty of visitors.

People in the agriculture industry know better; few modern farms reflect the “Old McDonald” image. If you operate a modern orchard, dairy, or horse breeding facility, you should make it clear from the start that your operation is not like a storybook farm.

Promote your farm as a modern, efficiency-driven business that integrates new technology with old fashioned farming principles.

Avoid projecting a cutesy image; rather, educate the visitor about the realities of modern farming. They have invested time and effort in getting to your farm and will not appreciate being misled by promotional literature that does not match the experience they will have at your farm.

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__ Farm visitor areas and entrances are clearly marked

__ Junk and salvage equipment is out-ofsight

__ Visitor comfort facilities are cleaned regularly and stocked

__ Promotional material projects an accurate image of the farm

__ Visitors can easily determine restricted areas of the farm

__ Hours, days, or season of operation is indicated at the entrance

__ Farm accepts credit cards or makes cash/check commerce easy

__ Parking areas are clearly marked and safe for visitors

__ Barriers for people with disabilities are minimized

Customer Relations

Farms are in the farming business, but agritourism is a people business. Your new job as an agritourism destination is to host visitors who will also be customers.

The idea is to have them so engaged in your farm that they will gladly hand over money for the experience of visiting your farm. This chapter describes ways to make the visitor experience as good as possible without a lot of wasted effort and without becoming a slave to the enterprise.

Day-to-Day Visitor Service

Each day your agritourism enterprise is open, you should establish a set of standard practices, to make sure customers will all have a good experience.

Before opening:

 Make sure road signs and parking signs are easy to see

 Check bathroom supplies

 Sweep up any debris in visitor areas

 Check inventory of refreshments and sales items (if applicable)

During open hours:

 Every customer is greeted with a smile, even if it’s has not been a day worth smiling about. Welcome them to the farm using the farm’s name: “Hi there, welcome to Goose Hill Farm.”

 Wear name tags or apparel to make it clear who is part of the staff at the farm.

 Let each customer know you will help them with any questions about the farm or the tourism activities they have come for.

Customers will usually wait for instructions, yet some will assume they know where to go and what to do for fun on your farm.

 Stick to the opening and closing you have posted.

 Pay attention to constructive comments from visitors. Phrases like “well, we finally found it” hint at the need for better signs.

Hours of Operation

Even though your farm is probably a 24- hour operation most times, your agritourism entity will have defined hours and days of operation. Some farms select just one weekend each year to host visitors, such as for an educational open house or farm festival.

Visitors appreciate regular business hours, such as “12 Noon – 8 PM, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday” mostly because they are easy to remember. Avoid changing your hours of operation frequently or posting hours that vary greatly from day-to-day, which can confuse even dedicated customers.

Visitors have become accustomed to seeing a conspicuous sign or flags in front of wineries and ice cream stands to indicate they are open. It can be tough to determine whether an agritourism destination is open just by looking at the farm from the road, so use similar signs or flags to give a strong visual cue that you are open for their business.

Handling Difficult Customers and Naive Questions

People who visit farms are doing so in part because they want to learn more. What they do know has come from the evening news, children’s storybooks, movies, and distant memories from family farms they visited years ago. Since their knowledge is limited, they may ask odd questions about things that seem obvious to you.

Each customer is a living and breathing marketing opportunity for your agritourism operation, so it is important to show respect and empathy for their point of view, no matter how naïve their question. Restate their question to start, and then give them a brief answer.

Here are some examples:

A visitor at a dairy farm points to a field of oats and asks, “How is your hay growing?”

Farmer: “We do grow hay, and use it to supplement our grain crops. In fact, this is a field of oats, one of those grains we use in our feed. And, by the way, our hay crop is a little short this year, so we may have to buy more feed.”

At a u-pick apple orchard, a customer asks about picking apples, “I’d like some green apples for making pie.”

Farmer: “You might enjoy the Northern Spy apples we will have later in the season. If you would like, we have a list of our apples and whether they are good for baking, sauce, or fresh eating throughout the apple season. This way, you can buy the best apples that are in season for pie-making.”

Near a young goat pen, a parent tells their child, “All the hornless goats are females,” not realizing both sexes had been debudded.

Farmer: “If you are looking at their horns, it is actually hard to tell which are boys and which are girls. We want them all to be safe around the feeding pens, so we prevent the horns from growing on both the boys and the girls, or the bucklings and doelings as we call them.”

It is possible that you will be faced with very challenging questions from visitors about animal welfare, the use of chemicals on crops, animal medications, and other touchy topics. If someone with an extreme point of view visits your farm, you must realize you will not change their mind. They have a lot of emotion in their point of view, are not likely to compromise, and are basically very difficult to have on the farm. If you find yourself confronted with an extremist on an issue related to your farm, one of the only decent things you can do is to act conciliatory.

Here is an example:

A visitor to a dairy farm open house confronts the herd manager about tail docking. “You should be ashamed for the pain and mutilation you are causing these animals! I am going to call for a humane officer to investigate your farm immediately!”

Herd manager: “Sir, I understand your point of view since I am around these animals all the time. Tail docking is not illegal and helps to keep our milk supply clean and safe. Your point is well taken, I have thought about this quite a bit myself.

In fact, I oversee the process to make sure it is done as well as possible for cow comfort.”

It will take time and practice to become a good people-person. If that is not your forte, find a family member or employee who is willing to be a point of contact for visitors.

On the whole, customers will be polite, receptive, and interested in your farm.

Nonetheless, there are some that will create challenging moments in your day.

With good service as a priority, along with\ instructional signs and a friendly approach, you will build positive visitor relations that result in repeat visitors.

Income Sources in Agritourism

Agritourism is being promoted as a way to generate additional income for the farm, and there are many highly profitable agritourism enterprises.

This chapter describes twelve possible income sources for farms that are becoming agritourism destinations. Use these as guidelines for making your specific plans. An agritourism business plan is the best way to show how the income streams and the new expenses balance to provide a profit center.

Admission Fee

An admission fee is charged to participate in events and activities, or tour special areas of a farm operation, in the same way you pay to enter an amusement park, museum, or sports event. You would probably not charge admission to a retail area (like a farm product shop), but to a more restricted part of the farm, such as entry to a milk parlor viewing deck. A general admission fee is usually used in place of other fees like tour or activity fees.

Many agritourism destinations host events, on one or several days during the growing season. For example, a maple producer may host a festival at the start of the season or a sheep farmer may host a wool spinning and knitting event.

A portion of the revenue for special eventscomes from admission fees. Tourists have become accustomed to paying to participate in events, particularly when there are very unique features they would not normally get to see.

Admission fees for agritourism range widely, depending on the uniqueness and extent of the experience – from $1 to $40.

The admission fee is usually scaled where adults pay the standard fee (e.g. $5.00), students and seniors are discounted (e.g. $4.00), and youth are discounted additionally (e.g. $3.00 ages 5-12). The standard admission may have a bonus amount for additional features (e.g. $2.00 extra for an extended vineyard tour).

Customers appreciate a maximum family fee or other group discounts.

One strategy for leveraging other income from the admission fee is to offer a corresponding discount on products purchased. For example, a $5.00 admission fee to a “Dairy Day” on a dairy farm can entitle the visitor to $3.00 off any product made by the farm, such as cheese or maple syrup. The farm would retain the $2.00 difference and earn more from the retail sale, and the customer would feel like they gained value from their admission fee.

Tour Fee

A tour fee provides the visitor access to the services of a knowledgeable guide or at least a guidebook for self-directed tours. A tourist paying this fee desires information about and access to farm areas restricted to other visitors. In return for their fee, the farm would provide a ticket or badge indicating their status as a paying participant in the tour.

Like the admission fee, the tour fee is usually scaled to different audiences and group sizes.

Income sources in AgritourismAdmission fee

  1. Tour fee
  2. Sales of fresh farm product to expanded customer base
  3. Sales of processed farm product
  4. Craft / souvenir sales
  5. Activity fee
  6. Class / skill-building fee
  7. Tasting fee
  8. Facility rental

10.Show fee

  1. Farm lodging
  2. Food service

Self-guided tours are generally free, however, group tours often involve significant staff time to prepare and host the tours. Fees may vary with the group.

School groups may be charged per child or a flat fee per class. Group tours for adults or families can also be based on the size of the group. Motorcoach tours will often negotiate a fee that they build into their package and pay a lump sum.

Sale of Fresh Farm Products

Although it is pretty obvious, part of the rationale of having visitors come to a farm is to sell them fresh farm products at retail prices. For example, U-pick farms charge customers to pick fresh fruits or vegetables, based on volume or weight.

With greater interest nationally in local food sources, there is ample opportunity to invite visitors to buy directly at the farm.

The agritourism entity at your farm is often intended to expand the customer base. For example, a maple producer might have stagnant sales of syrup and is looking to boost the number of bottles sold. An agritourism activity like an open house during sap season, a woods walk, or a class about maple candy making can expand the customer base, since there is an additional attraction to the farm. In most cases with direct marketing, more customers mean more sales.

Sales of Processed Farm Product

Many farms have expanded into production and sale of value-added items.

Processed products such as jellies, pickled products, dried fruit, sauces are often a better retail item for visitors since they can transported with less concern about spoilage or breakage. Sales of these products are enhanced when visitors can experience the farm first-hand.

A few products can be processed in a home kitchen, but most require a processing license. Check with your State Department of Agriculture regulations.

Craft/Souvenir Sales

In addition to farm product sales, farm owners can capitalize on the sale of souvenirs like t-shirts, ornaments, crafts, and rural antiques. Many agritourism operators have expanded into gift shops but this requires a lot of inventory and more management. It could be justified once the farm is attracting lots of visitors.

A challenge is to make sure the gifts do not become a distraction from the farm, which is the main purpose of agritourism.

Activity Fee

Why do some farms have corn mazes? The answer has little to do with boosting crop sales. A corn maze is a proven way to collect activity fees from farm visitors.

Following are examples of activity fees farms can charge:

 $1 for a handful of crackers to feed the goats

 $2 for hay wagon ride

 $15 for a dozen worms, a fishing pole and tackle for an afternoon of farm pond fishing

 $15 for an archery course circuit

 $20 for a short horse riding session

 $4 for a trip through the corn maze

 Etc.

Class/Skill-Building Fee

Educational tourism opportunities are on the rise because many tourists prefer to stay active and mentally engaged, even on vacation. Many nearby residents and neighbors will also take advantage of classes a farm might host. There are no practical restrictions on the classes a farm might offer.

Here is a sampling:

 Horse farm offers a clinic for families buying a horse for the first time

 Grain farm has a bread-baking class

 Fruit farm shows visitors how to make jam, jelly or fruit syrups

 Grape farm hosts a wine making class for beginners

 Small dairy farm hosts a homemade cottage cheese making class

 Herb grower hosts a class to make herb-growing containers or drying culinary herbs

 Vegetable farmer offers a cooking from the garden class

The point of hosting a class on the farm is to charge a fee for the experience and expertise. It is good to relate the class back to the farm for additional sales income.

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