October 5, 2006
Contact: Lynne Richmond
(MORRISTOWN) – A Rutgers University Food Policy Institute study of New Jersey agritourism released today indicates that agritourism – the business of making farms travel destinations for education and recreational purposes -- is critical to ensuring the viability of agriculture in the state in the future.
The yearlong study, The Opportunity for Agritourism Development in New Jersey, which was paid for by a grant from the /New Jersey Department of Agriculture, found that many farms in New Jersey have turned to agritourism as a way to increase revenue in the nation’s most densely populated state.
New Jersey’s Secretaries of Agriculture and Commerce Charles M. Kuperus and Virginia Bauer, along with Brian Schilling, Associate Director of the Food Policy Institute, released the findings while visiting Wightman’s Farms in Morristown, a farm market/pick-your-own farm that offers family hayrides and other agritourism activities.
“It is critical to the future of the state’s agriculture industry that we cultivate opportunities for farm families to earn livings from their farms,” said Secretary of Agriculture Kuperus. “Agritourism is one such opportunity that can prove financially beneficial to New Jersey farm operations and in coming years we will see it evolve and grow.”
The study found that New Jersey farmers offer a remarkably diverse array of on-farm activities to the public, from bare-foot grape stomping, corn mazes and hay rides to educational school tours, various types of classes, and music events.
“Agritourism has increasingly become an important component of our overall $36 billion tourism industry,” said Commerce Secretary Bauer. “During autumn, visitors can explore the state's vast array of agritourism attractions that are at their vibrant best at this time of year. It's also the perfect opportunity for that weekend family getaway to enjoy autumn farm festivals, hayrides, corn mazes, roadside markets, and pick your own operations and garden centers.”
A commonly cited benefit that agritourism provides to the farming industry, according to the study, is exposure of the public to agriculture, providing a positive experience with farming, educating people about the business of farming and the issues facing agriculture and instilling an appreciation for where food and agricultural products comes from, which is critical in maintaining public support of farmland preservation and other agricultural policies. Agritourism also contributes to the quality of life through retention of farmland and open space and by providing recreational activities.
The United States Department of Agriculture has estimated that 62 million Americans, age 16 or older, visited a farm between 2000 and 2001. An estimated 20 million children under 16 also visited a farm at some point during that period.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that the trend in farm profitability in New Jersey has been downward – 47.2 percent of farms reported net gains from farming in 1987 as compared to 38.3 percent in 2002. Agritourism, for many farmers, is, therefore, an important strategy for enhancing and stabilizing farm incomes. The Food Policy Institute study showed that more than two-thirds of those farmers surveyed drew at least half of their income through agritourism activities and many of those farmers were faring well enough that they plan to expand their operations.
The most significant issue raised among farmers interviewed was the challenge of marketing their operations. They said that word of mouth provided the most effective form of marketing and promotion, followed by road signage and websites.
“For many farmers, agritourism involves a significant transition from a traditionally wholesale business to a retail and service oriented business that requires a greater focus on effective promotion and marketing,” said Brian Schilling.
The report yielded a variety of recommendations for addressing the needs of New Jersey farmers involved with agritourism. They include:
- Develop a centralized agritourism promotion system.
- Aid farmers on liability issues.
- Establish a program to promote and coordinate agritourism industry development.
- Assist farmers with regulatory issues.
- Educate local officials and planners about the benefits of agritourism development.
- Provide hospitality and marketing training for farmers.
- Educate farmers and municipal officials about Right To Farm protections.
- Examine farmland preservation deed restriction policies in order to identify and address any constraints to agritourism development.
- Develop educational materials and information for school farm tours.
A New Jersey Agritourism marketing website that will provide visitors with the ability to find agritourism venues and events and interactively plan itineraries and plot routes can now be accessed at www.visitnjfarms.org. The Department of Agriculture also is working with the Commerce Commission to better integrate agritourism into the Office of Travel and Tourism’s marketing efforts.
“Fall is one of the most exciting times to visit a New Jersey farm, with mazes, hay rides, pumpkin and apple picking, winery tours and a variety of other recreational activities,” said Secretary Kuperus. “As agritourism continues to grow in our Garden State, more residents and visitors will understand the value of protecting farmland so future generations can enjoy its beauty as well as Garden State’s bounty.”
For more agritourism information, visit the Department’s agritourism webpage at www.state.nj.us/jerseyfresh/agritourismhome.htm and for New Jersey tourism information, visit www.visitnj.org.