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Agritourism in Alabama

March 14, 2013

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Agriculture and tourism are two of Alabama’s largest industries.  While agriculture has been the traditional backbone of the state’s economy for generations, tourism is a relatively new industry, yet its economic impact was over $9 billion in 2010.  Imagine the possibilities if the two were to combine efforts.  Leaders in both industries are beginning to do just that in selected areas.  The result is agritourism.

Tourism is big business for Alabama, so when the topic arises, the image that often comes to mind is of mass-produced travel that attracts many travelers.  These images can discourage farmers and other small entrepreneurs from considering agritourism as a method for enhancing agriculture revenues.  However, the best way to view agritourism is to see it much like ecotourism: as low-impact, small-scale, and education-focused.

Agritourism is not new – it has had a significant history, both in Europe and in segments of the United States, such as the West and upper Midwest.  Europe has long promoted the farm stay, where travelers stay on a working farm for a holiday or vacation.  Minnesota was at the forefront of the agritourism movement in the early 70s, but interest soon waned.  By the late 90s interest had revived, primarily due to farmers’ need to earn additional income to be able to stay in agriculture.  Interest in this unique form of tourism continues to rise around the country, including in Alabama.  From the farmers’ and entrepreneurs’ points of view, agritourism offers a source of supplemental income and an educational tool to explain agriculture to non-farmers.  To tourists and tourism organizations, agritourism provides additional attractions and marketing opportunities.

Agritourism Defined

Agritourism is a commercial enterprise at any agricultural site, including horticulture and agribusiness operations, conducted for the enjoyment of visitors that generates supplemental tourism income for the owner.  The agritourism experience could involve the following activities:

  • Farm tours
  • Holiday visits/tours
  • Farm visits and stays
  • Hay rides
  • Roadside stands & marketsconveyor
  • Barn dances
  • U-pick operations
  • Photography/painting
  • On-farm sales
  • Camping & picnicking
  • Festivals & fairs
  • Mazes (corn, hay)
  • Agriculture-related crafts/gifts
  • Habitat improvement projects
  • Guided crop tours
  • Bird watchingcloseup
  • Garden/nursery tours
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Winery tours
  • Hunting dog training & competition
  • Historical agricultural exhibits
  • Trap & skeet shooting
  • Exotic animal farms
  • Fee fishing
  • Farm skills/farm work
  • Fee hunting
  • Petting zoos

Reasons for Growth of Agritourism

Small farm incomes across Alabama are slowly but substantially eroding due to poor agricultural commodity prices coupled with rising input costs.  The small farm is further threatened by the outside forces of globalization, industrialization, and development encroachment. To cope, many farmers are recognizing the need to diversify their products and supplement their incomes based on traditional agriculture.  Agritourism provides the opportunity to increase the potential for higher margin, on-farm sales of value-added products and services.  The types of activities available in agritourism are very broad and can be tailored to fit each individual situation.

cheeseguysAgritourism attractions afford many side benefits in addition to providing supplemental income for farmers and entrepreneurs. For example, farmers markets in metro areas keep thousands of acres of farmland in agriculture, giving local residents viewsheds and excellent water quality and enhancing wildlife protection.  Farmers markets also attract thousands of shoppers who spend money in local shops, bolstering the tax base and helping to maintain a viable downtown.

Following the tragedies of September 11, 2001, people are still traveling, but they travel more often by automobile and take shorter, more frequent trips closer to home.  This trend definitely favors agritourism.  Further, agritourism attractions fulfill tourists’ increased desire to learn more from their travels and to rediscover for themselves and their families their rural and agricultural roots.

Alabama Agritourism Partnership & Trail

Alabama now boasts a statewide effort to collectively market all of its agritourism assets.  In June 2003, the Alabama Agritourism Partnership formed to develop and market agritourism across the state.  Partners include the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, Alabama Tourism Department, Alabama Farmers Federation, Alabama Farmers Market Authority, and Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

One of the major products of the Partnership was the greenhouse2Alabama Agritourism Trail, a web based product.  The Trail was implemented with three primary purposes: to give farmers and agri-business entrepreneurs a venue for marketing their products statewide and nationally; to create an educational tool to explain agriculture to non-farmers, particularly younger generations; and to provide additional attractions and marketing opportunities for small communities, allowing them to develop a critical mass of tourist attractions.

To complement the Trail, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System created a publication titled Developing an Agri-Tourism Attraction in Alabama, designed as a practical tool to assist farmers and entrepreneurs in deciding if agritourism can enhance their incomes and to provide the basic information needed to develop an agritourism attraction.

Future Actions Needed

Agritourism is progressing in Alabama, but that growth will not be sustained without future actions.  To grow the agritourism industry to its potential in Alabama, the following steps are needed:  (1) continue the development of a comprehensive database of existing agritourism attractions in Alabama; (2) develop an Alabama agritourism association of attractions; (3) strengthen and expand the Alabama Agritourism Partnership; and (4) develop and implement a certification program to recognize agritourism attractions providing the highest quality agritourism experience.  Pursuing these steps will help to ensure that farmers, entrepreneurs, residents, and tourists alike reap the benefits of agritourism in Alabama.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 13, 2014 12:13 am

    Agri-Tourism Attraction in Alabama also developing by using the new technology. It has also become a tourist attraction for the visitors. In Alabama, lots of tourist attractions for visitors, some places are most attractive for the visitors like Desoto State Park Resort showcases, Lake Guntersville State Park and Buck’s Pocket State Park’s. Desoto Falls is the most beautiful waterfall. In the entire state the best tourist place is the lake. Most of visitors are visiting here and enjoyed every moment.

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