Money Tight? Consider Agritainment As A Bottom-line Booster

Penn State's booklet on farm-based tourism guides you through potentials and around its pitfalls.

Published on: Dec 2, 2011

Let's see, you'd like to find a way to boost on-farm revenue, right? Check.

You and/or your significant other enjoy interacting with non-farm people, right? Check.

And, you've got this burning desire – and the patience – to help teach city folks where their food comes from, right? Check.

Then you may be a candidate for developing an "agritainment" enterprise – maybe. It's a farm-based tourism operation that provides economic benefit to you the farmer and offers entertainment, activities or products to your farm visitors.

FALL FUN-TIME: Educational obstacle courses and games dont have to be complex to draw adults and children to the farm.
FALL FUN-TIME: Educational obstacle courses and games don't have to be complex to draw adults and children to the farm.

"Agritainment creates the opportunity for farm owners to entice visitors to their farm, provide education about agriculture – and increase their overall profits," says Lynn Kime, Penn State Extension ag economist. "The concept offers hope for small, struggling farms. To offset farm income losses, many farms are taking advantage of their unique nostalgic, rural, family and outdoor appeal by developing entertainment attractions as additional sources of income."

Farm-based tourism has grown widely popular in recent years as a business venture, especially in the Northeast, he notes. Options range from pick-your-own produce, petting zoos, hay rides, children's play areas and children's discovery farms to corn mazes, pumpkin patches, fall festivals, Halloween attractions, cut-your-own Christmas tree operations, dairy tours, school field trips, and farm markets, even restaurants.

Beware! Extra work, and start-up costs ahead

When starting a new business, especially in entertainment, there are many benefits and costs to consider, adds Jayson Harper, also a Penn State ag economist. Pitfalls include regulations, liability risks, start-up costs and extra maintenance costs.

For an agritainment business to do well, the service or activities you choose to provide to the public should be creative and different in one way or another, Harper cautioned.

"After all, the point of providing the service is to provide something the public cannot find somewhere else in that area," he says. "Providing a fun and educational experience with good value for the money is essential for long-term success."

Farmers generally choose to focus on education, vacation, direct sales or recreation when starting an agritainment business, Harper notes, adding that within each enterprise is a multitude of possible ideas. "There are many different forms an agritainment business can take, depending on the type and the amount of land available, resources available and preferences of the landowner," he said.

"Pick-your-own or cut-your-own operations are a great way to get a labor force that pays for working on the farm," he points out. And while you have the public at your farm, offering other activities may further expand the income potential for the operation.

"With the right business tools, creativity and drive, farm-based tourism can be a very successful endeavor," he said. "While the economy still may be struggling, it is certainly an area of focus worth looking into."

A six-page publication, Agritainment, coauthored by Kime and Harper, is available online at http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/FreePubs/pdfs/ee0008.pdf. It provides information about different forms of agricultural entertainment and advises on marketing, advertising and risk management.

Single copies can be obtained free of charge by Pennsylvania residents through county Extension offices, or by contacting the College of Agricultural Sciences Publications Distribution Center at (814) 865-6713 or by email at AgPubsDist@psu.edu.