Farming and tourism: sum greater than the parts

Agriculture and tourism have many synergies that mean the sum of the two is greater than the two parts writes NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick after speaking at the inaugural Scottish Agritourism Conference today (12 November).

There are different aspects to any businesses that can and should be better used.  It is often just a case of looking at how we can best “sweat our assets”. These assets can be the land, the buildings, or the people, primarily our family.

Agritourism ventures can drive much more sustainability into businesses, adding greater viability into a family farm or croft.

By developing an agritourism enterprise, you are increasing the size of the pie, which means multiple generations will be able to derive an income from the family farm while allowing family members to develop their own specific role and skills .

Adding value to the family business, be it a farm or croft, and creating that bigger pie means succession planning and retirement planning should be much easier.

A diversified business inevitably will have more viable components that can be shared out if need be, rather than breaking up a smaller enterprise into several even smaller parts that could struggle or, worse still, cause family rifts or burdensome borrowing.

The local community and economy will also benefit from a thriving diversified enterprise in their midst sourcing local labour, skills and inputs with an inevitable spillover into local spend when staying or visiting an area.

Bringing the public onto your farm allows you to build up a relationship with your potential consumers.

This relationship will generate trust which will build an understanding of how their food is produced and the standards it is produced to.  I believe this will drive demand for our produce and, more generally, create a desire to seek out Scottish farmed food and drink when they are doing a food shop.

Agritourism offers an opportunity to strengthen farmers’ position in the food chain and embed recognition of the integral role they play in supporting the rural economy.

But the benefits go far wider than that!

Live farm tours have highlighted how farmers care for their animals, care for their environment, the water, the soils, the wildlife all to the very highest of standards. All this is generating trust in the food that visitors eat and how it is produced.

Agritourism specialist like “GO RURAL” and those taking part in the innovative agritourism monitor programme do a great sales job for Scottish agriculture.  They are acting as our agricultural shop window and NFU Scotland is very supportive of this initiative.

Climate change is driving everything we do now and going forward.  We are in a declared Climate Change emergency and we must do our part in mitigating it and to deliver the very challenging targets that Governments have set.

Farmers and crofters should be proud of what we have achieved on this, throw our doors wide open to the public and show and explain what we are doing.

Agritourism provides a great opportunity to explain to the public the part we play in tackling Climate Change in a non-confrontational way contrary to the tribal approach we see on some of the social media sites on the subject.

What a great opportunity agritourism can give to explain carbon capture of grassland and soil, and how grass is converted to high quality protein through grazing with sheep and cattle and keeping nature’s natural cycle maintained.

A farm tour can highlight the rich flora and fauna environment found on any farm or croft, pointing out wildlife and both plant and animal biodiversity whilst touring the farm. Farmers can clearly demonstrate the environmental credentials of the food they produce through a tourism platform.  

Agritourism has also provided an excellent platform to highlight the equality of women in business management and ownership.  The public welcomed the active role that women were making during the “GO RURAL” farm tours, viewed virtually by tens of thousands during the summer.

Agritourism naturally showcases the massive contribution that women make on farm using their entrepreneurial and business skills to drive growth for a farming business.

Indeed, any new diversified business tends to be jointly owned and managed with all the family involved - wives/children/husbands/partners - and because of this, it is changing farm asset ownership much more evenly.

Behind all this sits a Tourism Action Plan for Scotland that aims to more than double revenue from consumer spend in a tourism setting to £2 billion a year by 2030.

It seeks to inspire businesses to diversify and expand to meet the needs of visitors.

The plan acknowledges the scale of opportunity with greater penetration into hospitality and tourism businesses, developing innovation and practices which enable easier access to local produce.

There will be opportunities in our nation’s recovery from the impact of COVID-19 and the torrid impact it has had to capture the current appeal of ‘staycations’ and local food and drink that farm and croft businesses are well positioned to exploit, providing access and knowledge of locally produced food and drink and the amazing Scottish countryside.  I wish them all well.

Author: Andrew McCornick

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About The Author

Andrew McCornick

Andrew, who is married with three sons and a daughter, was born and brought up on a dairy farm in Wigtown. Andrew and wife Janice farm their 230+ ha unit with 160 suckler cows and 600 breeding ewes with a small herd of pedigree Charolais cattle. Andrew's sons farm a nearby tenanted unit which frequently provides replacement breeding stock for Barnbackle. For as long as Andrew can remember, he has been a member of the Union, and got more involved when the consultation for Nithsdale NVZ came out. From there he went onto become vice chairman of the Dumfries branch, and then onto his previous role of Regional Board Chairman for Dumfries and Galloway. He also sat on the LFASS committee. Andrew was elected Vice President in February 2015.

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