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First statewide agritourism survey: Visitors generate critical income for California small farms

The Issue

Agritourism is a vital strategy for diversifying and boosting profit for a small but significant number of California farms, but data of agritourism's economic impact as a farm diversification strategy was lacking.

Agritourism is defined as any income-generating activity conducted on a working farm or ranch for the enjoyment and education of visitors. This includes on-farm produce stands, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, U-pick operations and special events such as weddings and conferences, as well as overnight stays, cooking classes, festivals, tours and lectures.

What Has ANR Done?

For the first time, researchers have quantified and described the size, scope and economic contribution of California agritourism operations. Ellie Rilla of UC Cooperative Extension in Marin County and colleagues at the UC Small Farm program developed and conducted the first economic survey of agritourism in California. They asked 332 farms with agritourism operations about their motivations, marketing strategies, income and profitability, employees and growth plans in 2008. The survey found that more than 2.4 million visitors participated in agritourism at California farms. Nearly 30 percent of farms offering agritourism opportunities to the public earned $50,000 or more in additional revenue in 2008. One-third of those surveyed had at least one full-time employee working exclusively for their agritourism operation. Three-quarters of those surveyed cited the need to increase profitability as a reason for entering into agritourism. Other reasons included “to market farm products” (62%) and “to provide an employment opportunity for family members” (22%). Word of mouth (97%), signs (81%) and websites (76%) were considered the most effective forms of promotion. Results of the survey were published in the April-June 2011 issue of the journal California Agriculture. The Small Farm program also provides a free directory of California agritourism at http://calagtour.org, which lists hundreds of California farms that welcome visitors.

The Payoff

UC efforts describe value of agritourism on California farms

With this data in hand, several rural counties are reworking their zoning, streamlining permitting rules and assigning staff to assist farmers with establishing new on-farm tourism operations.

Clientele Testimonial

“We simply did not realize the positive impact agritourism could have in terms of farm diversification and the potential for economic development in Lake County until we saw the results provided to us by the Small Farm Program survey.” - Richard Coel, Community Development Director in Lake County


Supporting Unit: Small Farm Program

Shermain Hardesty, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis, director of the Small Farm program, (530) 752-0467, shermain@primal.ucdavis.edu

Ellie Rilla, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Marin County, community development, (415) 473-4204, erilla@ucdavis.edu