Agritourism is key to sustaining the future of farming

Agritourism shouldn’t be viewed as a diversification from farming’s key role of food production but as a way of ensuring it can continue profitably in the future.

That was the message being put over at this week’s Agritoruism conference in Perth which saw the launch yesterday of the first official strategy document for sustainable growth in this increasingly popular sector.

By adding value through direct food sales, farm shops, cafes, farm tours, other activities and accommodation, agritorurism can make the farm income “pie” bigger by providing multiple sources of income to ensure the business can support more than one generation of the family in business.

Launching the document, Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, said that agritourism offered huge opportunities for the sector, with a fast-growing interest amongst the population in where their food came from.

“I want to see this strategy really help drive this exciting industry forward,” said Gougeon.

“There are a host of passionate farmers doing this already, this is about us taking the next step to make this a real sector of success for Scotland.”

Scottish agritourism sector lead, Caroline Millar said it was crucial that agritourism should be viewed as part of the activities of an active working farm.

She added that the strategy, with its focus on on-farm food and drink offerings and authentic experiences, would allow Scotland’s farmers and crofters involved in agritourism to be a vibrant sales force for Scottish farming, at a time of great change in the sector.

With Scotland’s first full census of agritourism activity revealing that at least 500 businesses were currently actively marketing themselves, Millar said the strategy aim was to double this number by 2030, with at least half of businesses offering local food and drink.

“There is huge potential for growth - and time has come to decide if the sector is going to continue at the current level - or really max things up and take it to the next level.”

She said that growing the sector would pull local consumers, urban visitors and domestic and international holiday makers on to Scottish farms - putting vital income into the rural economy, creating jobs and protecting the future of family farms and crofts.

However, while the organisers and the wider audience at the event appreciated the warm words of support and encouragement given by the cabinet secretary, there was some disappointment that there was no firm announcement on funding or support for the sector.

MiIllar said that the sector had hoped for signs that the Scottish government was willing to invest in the sector to help it deliver the potential outlined in the strategy, which she said should not be left on the shelf to gather dust.

While capital grants to develop businesses could be one route for funding the sector, Millar added that with a focus on peer to peer learning, it was hoped that the highly successful agritourism monitor farm approach funding for this would be renewed when the current round ended next March.

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