Academic journal article Journal of Business and Entrepreneurship

Understanding Barriers for and Information Seeking Strategies by Agritourism Entrepreneurs in New England

Academic journal article Journal of Business and Entrepreneurship

Understanding Barriers for and Information Seeking Strategies by Agritourism Entrepreneurs in New England

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The agritourism sector in the United States has experienced a significant growth trend since 2002. Based on the Census of Agriculture and a series of studies released by the USDA (Bagi & Reeder, 2012; Brown & Reeder, 2007), .American farmers have developed and explored a variety of activities to promote farm-people-community interactions. Bed & Breakfast, festivals, special events, and farm tours are a few popular examples that farmers have engaged customers in learning from direct farming activities incorporating entertainment and recreation. Many researchers have recognized agritourism as a positive mechanism to improve farm income, sustain working landscape, and support farm family wellbeing. Others view agritourism as a time-consuming and resource intensive option which might create more stress and negative influences on farm families. (Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, 2015) Many success stories in agritourism operations seem to reveal opportunities and prosperity. Farmers experiencing success and profits in agritourism operation often adopt innovative business models or business strategies that are similar to other successful entrepreneurs. These business models or business strategies emphasize identifying opportunities to offer value added and benefits to visitors, and establish a reasonable user's fee structure to capture the willingness-to-pay from participants. Some farmers charge for tours and educational events (e.g. com maze, pumpkin carving, wine tasting), and others charge for ingredients and materials offered to visitors (e.g. make-your-own flower arrangement, preparefor-your-own-salad). These fees have to be significant enough to compensate farmers' time and resources in addition to regular farming expenses.

Just like many entrepreneurs designing and planning for diversification, there are many challenges and barriers for farmers to incorporate agritourism in their daily operation (Liang, 2015). Many well cited issues and risks in agritourism operation include lack of resources (time, labor, and capital), dealing with visitors, insurance and liability, limitations of seasonality and location, and reaching a balance between farming activities and handling visitors' demands. (Holland & Wolfe, 2000; Keith, et. al. 2003; Schilling, Marxen, Heinrich, & Brooks, 2006). It is a mystery to many farmers, particularly small family farms, who are seeking alternatives to maintain a profitable baseline whether agritourism is a feasible option to improve financial outcome in the long term. There seem to be more discussion in literature about challenges and barriers for farmers to participate in agritourism (e.g. Ryan, De Bord, & McClellan, 2006). One thing has never been explored in literature is - when farmers encounter issues, where and who do they go to seek information for support and guidance? Private consultants and public sendees such as Inc.com, Entrepreneur.com, and Small Business Development Centers offer many information sources to support entrepreneurs. What do farmers do when they need help?

This paper reports the findings from a large-scale field survey conducted in New England region to study agritourism operation. The key research questions are to identify barriers for farmers to be engaged in agritourism, and from where and whom farmers seek information to handle the barriers. This paper contributes to literature and field practices in two ways. First, diversification introduces risks and trade-offs to farm operators. Farming is very different from other types of business operations due to constraints and uncertainty in weather and environmental variations. Adding an agritourism component to daily operation implies extra time and commitment for farm operators and family members. Many farming decisions are not singular or segregated decisions, and dealing with barriers and challenges often involve multi-dimensional strategies. It is essential to examine what barriers farmers encounter the most in agritourism operation, and if farmers are seeking support and guidance from appropriate and effective sources. …

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