Increasing on-farm sustainability through agritourism research: An examination of agritourism visitors, farms, and marketing strategies

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2010: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Samantha Rich
North Carolina State University


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: extension, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, value added, agritourism
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life


    This study served as a pilot project and sought to better understand visitors to agritourism farms in North Carolina during agritourism operating seasons in 2010. Six farms across the state participated in the study and 137 usable surveys were collected. Overall analysis examined visitors’ most recent farm visit experiences, how visitors made their travel plans to agritourism farms, and farm owners’ perspectives of their agritourism businesses. Findings provide additional information regarding successful agritourism enterprises and future marketing strategies. Additionally, valuable lessons were learned from the methods utilized that will positively influence future projects.


    Agritourism, as defined in this study as any activity and/or service provided on a working farm with the purpose of attracting visitors, is a growing phenomenon among rural farms. As the popularity of agritourism grows, farmers are in desperate need of research relating to agritourism visitors and successful marketing strategies.

    Agritourism has grown in popularity over the years due to changes in the economy affecting farmers and communities across the nation and throughout the state of North Carolina (NC). In recent years, the number of farms in NC has suffered a dramatic decline with the state now accommodating less than 17% of the farms it had in the late 1940’s (NC Rural Center). The changing economy combined with fluctuations in agricultural income and the desire to preserve land and resources has placed pressure on farmers throughout NC to examine alternative economic opportunities.

    While more traditional sectors of the state’s economy have experienced a decline or shift, tourism in NC continues to grow. According to the NC Division of Tourism, NC is the 7th most visited state in the country, experiencing $16 billion in annual visitor spending across the state which supports over 190,000 jobs in NC (NC Division of Tourism). Thus, one promising alternative for many farmers includes the incorporation of various tourism-related initiatives (e.g., agritourism) as part of their economic development strategies. As noted by McGehee (2007), “When developed sustainably, agritourism can increase the long term potential for higher margin on-farm sales of value-added products and services, particularly for small farms in crisis” (p. 111). For these reasons, agritourism has seen a recent growth in popularity across the nation. For example, in 2007, the USDA reported 160,000 US farms were participating in some form of direct sales/agritourism with receipts totaling $566,834,000, an increase of approximately 180% from 2002. Of these, 23,350 farms (602 NC farms) claimed income from non-produce related recreational activities, such as farm tours, hunting and fishing (USDA, 2007).

    Agritourism has the potential to provide farmers with the economic means to remain sustainable. However, given the relative newness of agritourism as a farm enterprise, little research is available from which farmers can make business decisions. Thus, farmer strategies to increase profitability and sustainability for agritourism ventures have been limited to past experience and best guess approaches.

    While few other states have collected state-specific research highlighting the incorporation and importance of agritourism, these studies are limited in scope (majority from the farmer’s perspective, and not the visitor perspective) and are not generalizable.
    In order for farms to fully benefit from agritourism as an economic resource, research is needed to understand the market and provide agritourism businesses with the tools to effectively market their farm to visitors. Understanding agritourism visitors, the types of experiences they are seeking, and how they are making their travel plans will allow farmers to make wise business decisions regarding where to invest money and how to maximize profit potential.

    Project objectives:

    The overall objective of this project is twofold: to examine agritourism from the perspectives of both the farmer/producer and the visitor/user and to conduct a pilot study to test the methods and survey instrument to assist in developing a standardized means to properly evaluate and compare agritourism across states and regions. The end goal of this project is to use the findings of this study to inform agritourism business owners, landowners, and tourism officials of agritourism in North Carolina and to garner future grant funding to support the development of a multi-state agritourism research project.

    Performance targets include data preparation, data collection (farmers and visitors), data analysis, information dissemination, and submit proposal for future funding. These performance targets are discussed in detail below in the Materials and Methods section and the Results and Discussion/Milestones section.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.