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AGNET needs input from agritourism businesses

By Cat Holmes
University of Georgia

Schoolchildren love to visit an agri-maze of bright green corn plants in Taylor County, Ga.

Blueberry lovers can pick bucketfuls of fruit at a blueberry farm in Watkinsville.

Wine aficionados tour more than a dozen vineyards in north Georgia, courtesy of the Georgia Wine Trail.

Examples of farmers with too much free time? On the contrary, these farmers are part of a growing trend in the state called agritourism.

According to Kent Wolfe, an economist with the University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, agritourism has the potential to be a big boost in Georgia, where agriculture forms the backbone of the economy and farm revenues have recently declined.

The tourism and travel industry is estimated to grow by 28 percent from 1997 to 2007, with agricultural and nature-based tourism anticipated to grow 30 percent over the same period.

"There is a growing market for these activities," Wolfe said. "It's a way for farms to generate income and to provide education opportunities to folks."

The biggest barrier between consumers who are hungry for such experiences and land owners, farmers and businesses who have such enterprises to offer is lack of knowledge, said UGA economist John McKissick.

To put an end to that problem, UGA economists have created AGNET, http://www.iiseyes.org/agnet/, a Web site for agritourism in Georgia.

"There's a growing opportunity for farmers and growers to get a piece of the booming tourism industry," Wolfe said. "But people need an easy way to find these places, which are usually more out of the way. AGNET is our answer but in order to make it work, we need submissions."

Wolfe defines agritourism as the act of visiting a working farm or any agricultural, horticultural or agribusiness operation for the purpose of enjoyment, education or active involvement in the activities of the farm or operation.

"It could be a working dairy farm or plant nursery that's open for school tours, it could be a roadside stand, it could be a horseback riding enterprise," Wolfe said. "There are all kinds of pick-your-own places and fee-hunting places all over the state. We'd like to have them all listed on AGNET."

Wolfe added that nature-based activities like bird watching, fishing and nature trails are other examples that fall under agritourism.

To have a business listed on the AGNET website, the owner needs to get in touch with their county extension agent. That number is usually listed in the county government pages of the phone book, under "cooperative extension" or "extension." The county extension agent will post the information about the business on the Web site.

As a bonus, businesses listed on AGNET will also be listed on the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism's Web site, http://www.georgia.org.

"Back in the old days," Wolfe said, "people would visit relatives who owned farms when temperatures in the city got too hot or they wanted a change of pace. Now most people don't have a relative like that to visit. So agritourism is taking that place.

"Agritourism encompasses a wide range of things, from historical farm tours, to hunting to road-side stands," Wolfe said. "It was big in the 1960 and 70s in the Northeast, and now we're recycling the concept in the Southeast."

UGA economists have conducted several agritourism economic feasibility studies and many are available on the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development's Web site, found under "Publications" at http://www.agecon.uga.edu/%7Ecaed/.

(Cat Holmes was a science writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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