Academic journal article The Geographical Review

The Economic Contributions of Agricultural Tourism in Michigan

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

The Economic Contributions of Agricultural Tourism in Michigan

Article excerpt

AGRICULTURAL TOURISM AND FAMILY FARMS

Big and small, family farms dominate American agriculture in terms of production value, land under cultivation, and absolute numbers (Nelson 2010; Lowder, Skoet, and Singh 2014). Ninety-seven percent of all U.S. farms are family owned (Hoppe 2014). Of a total of 2.1 million U.S. farms surveyed in the 2012 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) agricultural census, 90 percent self-reported as small family farms with less than $350,000 in sales, while 75 percent have gross sales below $50,000. Off-farm income then is quite important and 52.2 percent of farm operators reported off-farm work as the main source of family income (Martin 2009; MacDonald 2013; Hoppe 2014).

Global trade in food and agricultural products has radically altered the farm sector in all nations, but particularly those for nations, large and small, where domestic markets are significantly influenced by high shares of agricultural imports or exports (Mazoyer and Roudart 2006). As farm families adjust their operations to compete in the post-World Trade Organization (WTO) environment, scholars argue that farms in most nations are increasingly split or "bifurcated" into two distinct groups: large-scale operations increasingly producing the vast share of land-extensive agricultural commodities such as grain, cotton and soybeans, and the vast majority of farms that still grow commodities but also produce a more diverse mix of public and private goods (Coleman, Grant, and Josling 2004; MacDonald 2013). The middle, in terms of both sales and farm size, is disappearing (McDonald, Korb, and Hoppe 2013). Smaller farms once able to remain solvent producing grain, grain/dairy mix, or horticultural crops for sale to wholesale buyers or cooperatives are facing increasingly competitive markets. As a consequence, many small farms in the U.S. and Canada now diversify their activities by including direct sales so as to remain solvent (Knowd 2006; King 2014). So, despite the fact that many studies find profitability is often related to farm size or scale (Hoppe, MacDonald, and Korb 2010; Bowman 2011; Caldwell 2011), the small farm persists and the absolute number in the U.S. has increased over the past decade (Gregson and Gregson 2004; Ferdman 2014; USDA 2014; DWELL 2015).

However, the activities that constitute important sources of income for many farm families have changed dramatically in the past several decades, as small U.S. farms work to develop and exploit niche markets (Coleman, Grant, and Josling 2004; Bagi and Reeder 2012). From a structural perspective, in response to higher production costs, shortages of affordable labor, and volatile prices for staple crops, many small family farms throughout the U.S. survive through the development of new production systems and marketing strategies. These new strategies include specialized production (organic, local-branded, or seasonal crops such as hops, Christmas trees, pumpkins, and gourds), alternative off/on-farm retail sales options (farmers' markets, business-to-business sales in the hospitality sector, weddings, bed and breakfasts, and cooperatives), and direct selling (community-supported agriculture and agricultural tourism) (Khanal and Mishra 2006; Knoud 2006; Youssef 2009; King 2014). Thirty-three thousand farms completing the 2012 United States Agricultural Census self-reported offering some type of agricultural-tourism activities to on-farm customers (USDA 2014). Many small farms that are uncompetitive due to limitations of labor, financial resources, or scale have turned to agricultural tourism to keep land in agriculture (Mace 2004; Sharpley and Vass 2006; Bagi and Reeder 2012).

To this end, agricultural tourism represents an increasingly important economic strategy. Products and activities continue to include traditional options such as U-pick fruit and vegetables, corn/sorghum mazes, haunted houses, petting zoos, and fish ponds, but now visitors to agricultural-tourism operations might also brew beer and cider, produce cheese, make soap or organic yarn, blend perfumes, create chocolates, or bottle wine, with all the ingredients and training provided on the farm. …

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