By ANN HINCH
SPRING HILL, Tenn. — About 10 years ago, Megan Bruch of the Center for Profitable Agriculture (CPA) in Tennessee, a newly-hired marketing and research specialist, began collecting data for a study and summary of agritourism across the state.
Last month, the CPA published an update to its report on agritourism operations for a new decade, which shows the direct impact of visitor spending with such ventures in Tennessee is $34.4 million; that jumps to more than $54 million when factoring in what those businesses spend locally on supplies.
Bruch said the report’s target audience does include farmers considering beginning an agritourism venture, but it’s also aimed at extension educators and the CPA staff themselves so they know the problems existing and new business owners/operators face, and what needs they have.
“We’re looking at what educational materials or programs we need to do,” she explained.
She also intends the new Snapshot of Tennessee Agritourism to be valuable for current owners/operators trying to decide in what direction to take their agritourism businesses. The kind of data in the report include how many respondents there were (nearly 40 percent of 429 identified agritourism business operators across the state) as well as specifics as to types of operations, average income, average spent per consumer and the like.
While fall enterprises – such as corn mazes and pumpkin patches – comprise much of Tennessee agritourism (74 percent of operations are open in October), Bruch said there are types expanding during other seasons of the year as well (at the time of the survey, only about 32 percent were open in January).
“I love to hear the stories about people who have been able to go back to work on the farm full-time,” said Bruch, who grew up on a Colorado farm herself.
The Snapshot might also be valuable for legislators and others deciding public policy in Tennessee. Of 171 agritourism businesses responding to the survey this year, she said 12 percent consist of fewer than 15 acres used specifically for legally defined ag activities.
This renders them currently ineligible for greenbelt classification – a 1976 state law granting tax relief to owners of productive ag land for the purpose of discouraging urbanization.
Bruch pointed out the state has a specific law limiting the legal liability of agritourism operations – that applies only to operations with a greenbelt classification. She used this as an example of how information from the survey and study might aid legislators reviewing such policy – so they know how many business operations don’t qualify, for instance.
Another finding that could be of interest to state and local lawmakers, for example, is the fact some agritourism business owners face problems with local zoning regulations. A local zoning board may not know what agritourism is or which laws apply to such property.
“I’m hopeful the information will be used in a lot of ways to foster and grow (agritourism) in Tennessee,” Bruch said.
To read the full Snapshot online, visit https://tiny.utk.edu/ATStudy and to learn more about the CPA and its resources for Tennessee value-added agriculture, call 931-486-2777.
And, to compare many findings from the 2013 survey to Bruch’s work a decade ago, visit http://aimag.ag.utk.