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December Census Will Count Agritourism Enterprises
By Jane Eckert
As published in the Fruit Grower News & Vegetable Grower News, November 2007
As we all know, agritourism is becoming more and more recognized as a viable option to increase revenues on our farm. The media this past fall did a great job in sharing stories about our apple harvest, corn mazes, pumpkin patches and haunted attractions.
However, based on an independent survey that I recently conducted covering a number of states, no one is really sure just how many farms are involved in agritourism. Certainly a major factor is that we don’t have a common definition of agritourism, but whatever the reason, agritourism, as an industry, has never been counted.
Well, that’s about to change. The U.S. Census of Agriculture, conducted by NASS (The National Agricultural Statistics Service) has a new questionnaire coming out in December. This 2007 census will ask the very question we all have wanted to know, “What is the number and value of agritourism enterprises in the U.S.?”
This is the Ag Census that is done every five years, and it provides a comprehensive picture of what is happening in production agriculture. All two million plus farmers in the U.S. are required to complete and return the questionnaire by February 4, 2008. While it takes almost a year for a complete tabulation, these farm numbers are ultimately available for every state, counting acreage by specific production, value of your crops, animals by herd size and plenty more.
I have already seen an advance copy of the census, and it is 24 pages long. I am particularly interested in the new question # 4 added in Section 25. It says, “Report amount received before taxes and expenses in 2007 from Agri-tourism and recreational services, such as farm or winery tours, hay rides, hunting, fishing etc.” This specifically means all revenue earned not related to crop or animal sales. It would even include farm stays, campsite rentals, cattle herding as a guest experience, and the many other activities being done on farms and ranches today to increase the farmer revenue.
The census will continue to ask a question about agricultural product sales sold directly for human consumption at your roadside stand, farmers market, pick your own or door to door. There are also questions asking about CSA (Community Supported Agricultural) sales, organic sales and value added products.
But Section 25, question # 4 is specific to the agritourism or agri-entertainment activities that so many of us are providing. Your completion of this question will establish the benchmark for reporting agritourism sales in a consistent manner every five years.
Only three states (Vermont, Hawaii & New Jersey) have to date paid for independent agritourism NASS studies, and have a state benchmark. The rest of us really have little more than an intuition as to the number of farms involved in these types of activities and the scope of the revenue earned.
But the experience in those three states illustrates how this question will likely help all of us. Once we can quantify the economic impact of agritourism to our farm businesses, we will have established ourselves as a unique industry within the farming community and our respective states. By doing so, future state and federal grants, tourism development funds and rural economic development funds may become more available for the growth of our industry.
The NASS Ag Census information is strictly confidential, and individual farm information is never released. The data is summarized at a state level for publication. Your information will make a difference. Another first for the 2007 Ag Census is that you will be able to complete the survey online. The deadline is February 4, 2008, so get your farm reports ready for this all important census and get ready to be counted.
By the way, the addition of this question didn’t just happen by chance. Jackie Folsom, from Vermont, was placed on the NASS advisory board in 2001 to help review the Ag census and make recommendations for change. Jackie had served as the Program Coordinator in Vermont when the state had received some federal grant funding to develop their agritourism industry in the late 1990’s. Through this experience, she saw firsthand the impact agritourism was having for their farms. Jackie recognized that once we could measure the industry, it would become easier to seek funds. We thank you, Jackie, for your persistence to add this new question. (Jackie currently serves as President of the Vermont Farm Bureau.)
Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.