Agritourism plays important role in Virginia economy

Agritourism plays an important role in the $70 billion annual economic contribution made by Virginia’s agriculture and forestry industries.

Results of a recent study conducted by Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business found that agritourism provided a $2.2 billion economic impact in 2015. The 1,400 agritourism businesses included in the study consisted of wineries, ranches, historical attractions and pick-your-own vegetable and fruit operations.

In 2015 the industry supported 22,000 jobs; contributed $840 million in income; and paid $135 million in state and local taxes. Of the 7.2 million visitors, 3.2 had traveled farther than 50 miles.

“It’s not surprising that agritourism is so popular right now,” noted Tony Banks, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation commodity marketing specialist. “It combines our two top industries—agriculture and tourism—and provides families with quality experiences out in the country.”

Visitors cited bonding with family and friends, enjoying the outdoors, experiencing something new and purchasing quality food, beer, cider or wine as their primary motivations to visit agritourism venues.

Dr. Mitzi Batterson, whose family owns and operates James River Cellars Winery in Hanover County, explained that “more and more people are looking for an educational experience. Agritourism allows people to see, feel and touch a very small piece of what agriculture is like.”

The winery was one of nine tour stops for participants in the Virginia Agritourism Conference, held April 18-20 in Richmond. Batterson added that she is “happy to see some relevant numbers regarding agritourism.”

Jessica Hall, co-owner of Harmony Harvest Farm in Augusta County, said successful agritourism operators figure out what they are good at and capitalize on that. She and her husband started their farm five years ago, growing fresh produce, but it wasn’t the right fit.

“We worked with an agribusiness planner through Farm Credit, and he helped us realize that growing cut flowers was our strong suit,” Hall recounted during a session at the conference.

Chris Cook, director of the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture Innovation & Rural Sustainability, who also spoke at the conference, noted that a business plan is imperative for successful agribusinesses. “A business plan is a living document that provides a road map, whether you’re starting a business, expanding or adding a new product line to an existing business.”

In 2007 there were 476 Virginia farms providing tourism or recreational services, and those businesses were valued at $12.9 million. By 2012 those numbers had increased to 814 and $15.2 million respectively.

According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, Virginia’s top five agritourism counties were Loudoun with 50 operations; Fauquier, 36; Albemarle, 25; Tazewell, 23; and Pittsylvania, 21.

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