Fun on the Farm? No, thank you!

Yesterday’s News Journal article “Fun on the farm is serious business for Delaware Farmers” highlights 3 Delaware agritourism sites and their successes. However, the article states “some farmers have been slow to adapt. First state farmers are even further behind the agritourism trend. The USDA found only 43 of Delaware’s 2,450 farms offer agritourism, producing $453,000 in annual income.”

The missing link to the story is an interview with a farmer who decided not to expand into this market and the reasons why. A simple Google search of “agritourism barriers” will do the trick. But since we’ve looked into it ourselves, I can tell you first hand why the end search result for us has always been a resounding “No, thank you! It’s not worth the risk”!

In Little Wagon’s case, we do our best to get to know our customers and have found over the years that most seem in a hurry to get to their beach destination. We just haven’t had the requests. Beyond the demand issue, what else has kept us from diversifying into this “fun on the farm” business?

  1. Capital-for a small business, how much do we need to invest to make it successful? How soon will it pay off? How do we structure pricing?
  2. Labor-this could be #1. Let’s face it, we struggle terribly by the end of August because our seasonal help goes back to school. September and October are very long months for the family with no help on the schedule. How can we add more fall activities without good help?
  3. Insurance Liability/Safety– on farm activities such as hay mazes, games, petting zoos with live animals only increase concerns around safety. How much will our already high insurance plans increase? Check out the research link on agritourism safety below.
  4. Promotion & Advertising-small businesses just do not have the budget for this. Yes, we can take advantage of free social media all day but additional advertising such as radio spots, local paper ads, and even Facebook advertising can be expensive.
  5. Regulation Compliance-what if we add a gift shop or bathrooms on site? What about the need for hand sanitizing with petting zoos? This will add public health inspections to our regulations list. What about signage along Rt. 404? What about entrances on Rt. 404? How easy do you think obtaining these permits from DOT will be? We’ve kept it simple for all these years and avoided these headaches.

Maybe we need to have more of the “build it and they will come” mentality. The end of the article mentions personality of a farmer and how it can allow a farm business to diversify. I believe this is true but it also depends on risk and how much a farmer (and his family) wants to take on. My research also tells me that more established businesses are less likely to expand. We are closing on our 27th year and Farmer Dan is very conservative. I respect him for not wanting our family to take on more risk. Besides, with low grain prices and drought this summer, where will farmers get the income to diversify? They’re too busy investing, fixing, and babysitting irrigation systems….oh wait, that’s a different kind of “fun on the farm”.

Agritourism Research found and read: