December 17, 2007
Cattle continue to be the bread and butter of Nevada ranch owners, but some farmers are putting aside the feed buckets to squire tourists about their country estates.
“Tourism opportunities broaden as urban people have lost touch with the land,” says Rick Lattin, owner of Lattin Farms in Churchill County. “They want to walk around, feed the goats, watch the chickens and pet the rabbits.”
Agritourism in rural Nevada is a fledgling industry with room to grow, says a new study by University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.
The reason for the study, says Tom Harris, economic development specialist, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, says the study came as Nevada ranchers look to diversify their revenue. The cattle industry endures periodic downturns in cycles spanning up to 12 years.
Because state already is dependent on the tourism industry, even Nevada’s rural counties have developed a tourism infrastructure. Agritourism can piggyback on that, says the study. (It’s posted online at unce.unr.edu/publications).
And while farmers near urban areas can succeed with harvest festivals and the like, isolated regions generate strong revenues from hunting, fishing or wildlife viewing. In fact, the wildife-tourism market values more remote areas as a part of the experience. Those customers tend to be wealthier and willing to spend more money, says the study.
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About 50 farms or ranches, less than 2 percent of the state’s total, reported income from recreational sources. And the average income was only $8,000. The average farm visitor traveled a distance of 86 miles and spent $45 on the trip.
However, cautions Harris, “A rancher or farmer who goes into this has got to be a people person.”
“Farmers themselves have become a tourist attraction because there are so few of us,” says Lattin. “This year, a visitor brought her child up to me and asked, ‘Are you the farmer? My son has never seen a farmer.'”
At harvest time, also the tourist season, Lattin Farms hires 25 on a busy day. “It takes 30 people to run the tourism sideline on a busy Saturday in October, says Lattin. The roadside stand requires pickers, bakers, and cashiers. The corn maze needs guides and retired teachers are hired to conduct educational tours. Lattin Farms gave school tours for 20 years before it launched the corn maze in 1998. Activities are listed at lattinfarms.com.
Corley Ranch in Douglas County hires 10 for the annual Harvest Festival that runs the month of October. It also relies heavily on 20 volunteers, says Paula Corley, who operates the ranch with husband John. (Activities are listed at corleyranch.com)
The tourism component contributes about a quarter of the annual ranch income, with the majority coming from cattle and hay, she says.
And while the festival has doubled attendance every year, Corley says the effort is hugely time consuming and costly.
“We spend $10,000 to $15,000 a year in advertising,” she says. “We started events in 1999 but people still don’t know we’re here.”
But others have since approached them, wanting to piggyback on the ranch to conduct Christmas tree sales, run an ice-skating rink and a golf range.
However, it takes cash to make hay. Those employees need to be paid.
And premiums for risk-benefit insurance range from $2,500 to $35,000 for farms that offer mechanized rides.
Douglas County has embraced agritourism as a group project. Five ranches participate: Settlemeyer Ranch, Byington Ranch, Mack Ranch, Burr Rancy, and Park Ranch. All belong to Carson Valley Conservation District, which coordinates their efforts. Last year, 21 organizations donated over 800 volunteer hours to put on nine different events.
The result is the annual Eagles and Agriculture event held in February, which drew 3,000 tourists over the past five years. Revenue grows each year by 10 to 15 percent, says Dan Kaffer, Western Nevada Resource Conservation and Development coordinator at Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Authority estimates that two years ago, the 500 people who attended from out of the area generated a $250,000 economic impact.
Cooperative Extension offices throughout the state will take the study on agritourism potential into the field, says Harris. “What we do is education on the subject, and then hope people will pick it up.”