The weather is finally beginning to cool off a little bit in Arizona, at least in the morning, and that means folks are starting to get outside and enjoy Arizona’s farms and ranches during fall harvest and beyond.
October is the most popular month for the general public to connect with our Arizona farmers and ranchers. In fact, the agritourism aspect of our agriculture is key to the “on-farm” experience where multiple activities are available to families visiting farms designed around agritourism. November and December in Arizona don’t disappoint either.
Arizona’s agritourism industry is growing and as of the 2017 census data, accounted for about $14 million in sales. “The high-season for our agritourism industry is like other states really kicking off in the fall with pumpkins, apples and corn mazes, but it continues throughout the winter months and well into the spring,” says Arizona Farm Bureau President Stefanie Smallhouse and rancher in southern Arizona.”
In fact, Apple Annie’s in Willcox, Mortimer Farms in Dewey and Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek all operate year around.
On the national level, Farm agritourism revenue more than tripled between 2002 and 2017, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Census of Agriculture. Adjusted for inflation, agritourism revenue grew from $704 million in 2012 to almost $950 million in 2017, the latest Census data available. The 2017 data excluded wineries, although they were included in 2002, 2007, and 2012 data, which suggests agritourism revenue growth may have been even greater during that period. However, agritourism revenue is still small relative to total farm revenue, accounting for 5.6% of farm-related income in 2017.
Agritourism helps U.S. farmers and ranchers generate revenue from recreational or educational activities that cater to families with small children, such as tours of a working farm or “pick-your-own fruits and vegetables” programs. Beginning and small and mid-size farms are increasingly exploring agritourism as a strategy to remain competitive.
Says the USDA, Agritourism also has the potential to help revitalize rural economies, educate the public about agriculture, and preserve agricultural heritage. In addition, community-focused farms may find agritourism an attractive option because it provides more labor opportunities for local residents.
Agritourism in Arizona
“Our farms and ranches open to the public provide educational, you-pick, and local farm-to-plate shopping opportunities as well as event and catering options,” adds Smallhouse. “You can pick oranges, apples, corn and pumpkins, learn about growing cotton, milking cows, making olive oil, shop the local meat case and produce bins or give your kids the opportunity to run around like a farm kid and for desert eat fresh goat milk ice cream. Some farms host community events or private weddings while catering local food at the same time.”
In a recent Arizona Farm Bureau “Talk to a Farmer Friday” Instagram Live with Apple Annie’s Mandy Kirkendall, participants learned that Sunflowers are the trend with families visiting Arizona farms. “Our acre-plus of sunflowers are very popular this season as well as last. Prior seasons, the product wasn’t moving as fast in our country store as now.” Perhaps Pinterest boards are featuring more and more crafts with sunflowers.
“A significant portion of farm tours and experiences in Arizona involve visiting and touring vineyards,” adds Smallhouse. “We have three major wine growing regions in Arizona and as of 2013 there were 96 operations. If you are a connoisseur, there are several varieties to enjoy, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Syrah.”
Says Smallhouse, “I love a Viognier from the Verde Valley region and a spicy red infused with green Chiles from the Sonoita region.”
Future Growth in Arizona
Smallhouse has great insights on this as she roams the state as Arizona Farm Bureau President. “Last year Farm Bureau worked very hard at our Legislature to pass new legislation defining agritourism as an important sector of Arizona agriculture. It now has a clear definition that will help address the issue of property taxes and regulatory issues. Inviting the public onto our farms and ranches is very hard work and is certainly not for everyone, but it offers a diversification on the farm to offset turbulent markets and growing conditions.”
She adds, “The opportunity for the public to interact with growers is very important for the sustainability of agriculture in Arizona. These interactions are key to informing kids and adults alike as to how their food is grown and the challenges which exist in producing food and fiber.”
Despite the challenges of 2020’s pandemic and how hard some of our agritourism farms were hit, they remain hopeful. “Our winegrowers were particularly hit hard with the loss of local sales and farms have had to adjust visitation for social distancing, but overall Arizona is known as a tourism destination and visiting our farms and ranches is a great way to experience not only our climate and scenery but also our locavore menus,” says Smallhouse.
Arizona and other western states are lucky to be able to have the “welcome” signs our in mid-winter. You can find our year around agritourism farms open for the Christmas holidays or hosting a winter wedding.
USDA reports as the share of farms and ranches with agritourism revenue increases, more farmers and ranchers may be encouraged to adopt agritourism activities. Previous research has documented the loss of small and mid-sized farms and ranches, so agritourism revenue may offer a viable strategy to keep these farms afloat — particularly near agritourism hot spots.
Finally, the USDA suggests future research could help identify agritourism best practices, keys to success, or barriers to growth. Tracking agritourism operations over time will help researchers better understand the characteristics of successful operations and why some enterprises have chosen to participate in agritourism. Future research could also help identify the rural economic development benefits of industry agglomeration and how they vary based on the type of agritourism enterprise, regional location attributes, and spillovers from other local industries.
For now, Arizona’s major, well-established agritourism farms have a solid foothold in their community and are well-known by local residents. As the landscape in farming changes, this type of farming truly holds the key to keeping the public connected with Arizona agriculture. Arizona families can go to Arizona Farm Bureau's www.fillyourplate.org and search for farms they can visit. And while October festivities on the farm are complete, there's still plenty to do this fall on farms open the entire year.
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