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By 

LISA CHASE

June 15, 2021

Burlington--Agritourism is a growing industry in the United States, providing opportunities for agricultural operations to generate revenue by offering visitors educational and recreational experiences, including tours, tastings and hospitality, as well as direct-to-consumer sales of products. 

To gauge the breadth and impact of agritourism in the country, University of Vermont (UVM) Extension, in collaboration with research and cooperative extension faculty in California, Oregon and West Virginia, conducted a national online agritourism survey. The survey period ran from November 2019 to February 2020, concluding shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States.

While farms experienced substantial changes during the pandemic, this survey of farms open to visitors provides a snapshot of the state of agritourism prior to the start of the pandemic. Plans are underway for a follow-up survey in late 2021.

A total of 1,834 farmers, ranchers and vineyard operators from all 50 states responded, including 222 from Vermont. Nationwide, Vermont had the most participants, followed by Oregon, Tennessee, California and Kansas. The top responding counties were, in order, Chittenden, Addison, Windsor and Orange.

The survey was designed to assess the economic viability of agritourism enterprises through a better understanding of the range of experiences offered such as farm stays, corn mazes, pick-your-own fruit operations and on-farm direct sales. Participants also were asked for input on challenges faced and types of support needed to achieve success.

In Vermont, surveys were sent to 376 agritourism operators by direct email. Of those, 196 responded with an additional 26 completing the survey through a link for the multi-state survey. They ranged in age from 26 to 83 with an average age of 57 compared to 55 nationwide.

Sixty-two percent of Vermont respondents have 10 or more years of agritourism experience with one operation in business since 1943. The newest operators became involved in agritourism in 2019.

Responses were categorized by on-farm direct sales, education, entertainment and events, outdoor recreation and lodging. Survey results indicated that direct sales are the most commonly offered experience for both state (86 percent) and all U.S. (79 percent) respondents. Fifty-two percent of Vermont farms and vineyards open to visitors provide tours and other educational experiences for the public as compared to 59 percent in the U.S. overall.

Fewer state agritourism operators offer entertainment and events (40 vs. 52 percent U.S.) and outdoor recreation (23 vs. 28 percent) although Vermont and total U.S. respondents were approximately the same for lodging at 21 and 20 percent, respectively.

Fifty-nine percent of the Vermont agritourism enterprises surveyed said that they planned to expand their services. About 43 percent will add additional buildings or equipment with 26 percent planning to hire additional employees in the next five years. Time management (90 percent) and labor (87 percent) ranked as the highest challenges faced by farmers in the state, followed closely by marketing needs (82 percent).

Farms requested assistance with marketing, legal and liability information and safety information for hosting visitors. UVM Extension and collaborators are working together to provide support for farms open to visitors throughout the evolving pandemic and beyond.

The survey, coordinated by UVM researchers Dr. Lisa Chase and Dr. David Conner, was funded through a Critical Agriculture Research and Extension grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Complete results may be found at www.uvm.edu/vtrc/agritourism-survey.

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