Farm tours – a problem or profit?
Farm tours are a form of diversification that both tenanted and owner occupier farmers should consider as a means of promotion of the farm story, brand and produce, and also as another means of revenue.
Farm tours can take many forms, with the size of groups, time length of tour and farmer involvement varying across the country. With the success of projects like ‘Open Farm Sundays’, farm tours have taken off, although it is still an untapped market in some areas.
Tours are often seasonal and will naturally be more popular in the spring and summer months, but some farms carry out all year-round tours. Some farmers employ others to do the tours on behalf of them, other farmers prefer to do the tour themselves so farmers can take either a passive or active role. The farm tour experience and income will vary according to farm type, location and the market segment targeted: e.g., students, young families, interest in food origins, conservation, and biodiversity etc.
Some farms make very successful income from simple walk and talk tours as well as more sophisticated tractor tours and hands-on lambing shed experiences. In general, the public are fascinated with what goes on in farming and are always looking for unique experiences and to better educate themselves on real farming practices.
I, personally, have run several farm tours and found it a rewarding experience. The model that we operated depended on group size and group type and included a drink and sandwich. A filled coach visit for example with 56 people was £700 for 1.5 hour tour. In our situation, the customers on tour ended up at the farm shop and purchased further refreshments and produce.
However, it is important to bear in mind that farm tours should be (in most cases) a secondary objective to the farm enterprises. The tours must be managed in a way that they do not disrupt performance of the existing farming enterprises directly or indirectly. Good communication, management of time and resources and planning are essential to running a farm and a tour business enterprise concurrently.
Return on Income
Some smaller bespoke farm tours can be lucrative, and many customers are looking for unique high quality personal experiences and happy to pay a higher price for that (£30-£100). A cursory review of farms that offer tours in Scotland suggests that group tour prices range from £10-£30 per head with headage discounts offered to larger groups. Children’s prices range from £5-£15 with higher prices for more hands-on experiences. Children go free with a paying adult in some cases. Trailer tours as a stand-alone option can start at £20 but can rise to upwards of £60 per person. Costs involved with the inputs and the additional overheads such as insurance and infrastructure must be considered in the pricing in order to ensure a good profit margin.
Farm tours may be the last thing on many farmers’ minds but in the right location and with careful management there can be benefits on both sides. Tours are a personal and powerful way farmers can educate the public on their local farming practices, culture, and history, with opportunity to dispel many myths, showcase quality sustainable food, and at the same time demonstrate the stewardship and hard work that goes on to keep the nation fed.
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