'Agritainment' offers farm owners a chance to boost revenue

December 01, 2011

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- It's getting tougher all the time to be a farmer, and managers of small agricultural operations have to be increasingly efficient, clever and resourceful just to stay profitable.

But the concept of "agritainment" -- any form of farm-based tourism operation that provides economic benefit to the farm owner and offers entertainment, activities or product for the visitor -- may help farmers improve their bottom lines, according to agricultural business experts in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"Agritainment creates the opportunity for farm owners to entice visitors to their farm, provide education about agriculture and increase their overall profits," said Lynn Kime, senior extension associate in agricultural economics. "The concept offers hope for small, struggling farms."

In a country that once prided itself on the agricultural productivity of the family farm, increasing taxes, high production costs and competition from large corporations has forced smaller farms to die off by the thousands each year, Kime pointed out. And some of these failing farms have been in families for generations.

"To offset the loss of traditional farm income, many farms are taking advantage of their unique nostalgic, rural, family and outdoor appeal by developing entertainment attractions as additional sources of income," he said.

"These options range from such strategies as pick-your-own produce, petting zoos, hay rides, children's play areas and children's discovery farms to corn mazes, pumpkin patches, fall festivals, Halloween attractions, cut-your-own Christmas tree operations, dairy tours, school field trips, and farm markets and restaurants."

Running a farm is a 365-days-a-year job of management, manual labor, hard work and sacrifice, Kime noted. While it is extra work and start-up costs are involved, agritainment has grown widely popular over the years as a business venture.

When starting a new business -- especially in the field of entertainment -- there are many benefits and costs to consider, said Jayson Harper, professor of agricultural economics. "First, some of the benefits of an agritainment business are increased income, the opportunity to show off other businesses on the same farm and, of course, the sheer joy of providing entertainment and an educational experience to the public.

"Some pitfalls, however, are regulations, liability risks, start-up costs and extra maintenance costs."

For an agritainment business to do well, the service or activities a landowner chooses to provide to the public should be creative and different in one way or another, Harper cautioned.

"After all, the point of providing the service is to provide something the public cannot find somewhere else in that area," he said. "Providing a fun and educational experience with good value for the money is essential for long-term success."

Farmers generally choose to focus on education, vacation, direct sales or recreation when starting an agritainment business, Harper noted, adding that within each enterprise is a multitude of possible ideas.

"There are many different forms an agritainment business can take, depending on the type and the amount of land available, resources available and preferences of the landowner," he said.

"Pick-your-own or cut-your-own operations are a great way to get a labor force that pays for working on the farm," he explained. "While you have the public at your farm, offering other activities will keep them on the farm and expand the income potential for the operation."

A farmer can choose to incorporate more than one focus in his choice of service. Providing an area for an educational movie on the history of the farm, for example, while providing a direct-sales service, such as a pick-your-own activity, will expand the enterprise and income.

"Because the majority of the population is now one or more generations removed from the farm, some of the customers may never have visited a farm, and the agricultural experience will be very new to them," Harper said. "Focus on an important crop on the farm, and highlight how the crop is produced, why it is produced by that particular method, and the steps involved in getting that crop to the grocery store.

"With the right business tools, creativity and drive, agritainment can be a very successful endeavor," he said. "While the economy still may be struggling, it is certainly an area of focus worth looking into."

A six-page publication, Agritainment, coauthored by Kime and Harper, is available online at http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/FreePubs/pdfs/ee0008.pdf. Part of the popular Agricultural Alternatives series, it provides information about different forms of agricultural entertainment and advises on marketing, advertising and risk management.

Single copies of Agritainment can be obtained free of charge by Pennsylvania residents through county Penn State Extension offices, or by contacting the College of Agricultural Sciences Publications Distribution Center at 814-865-6713 or by email at AgPubsDist@psu.edu. For cost information on out-of-state or bulk orders, contact the Publications Distribution Center.


  • A corn maze is a popular form of agritainment that can be provided by farmers.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated December 05, 2011