THE ECONOMIC CONTRIBUTIONS OF AGRICULTURAL TOURISM IN MICHIGAN
Geographical Review 106(3)
American Geographical Society: What is the main purpose of your study?
Gregory Veeck: The purpose of this project, funded by a USDA grant awarded to the researchers by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural development, was to assess the economic contributions of the more than 4,000 agricultural tourism operations throughout the state.
American Geographical Society: What are the practical, day to day implications of your study?
Gregory Veeck: The research reported in this article estimates the actual state-wide economic benefits (employment, revenues, taxes) of the agricultural tourism sector for the state of Michigan. This case study clearly shows that agricultural tourism is an important and growing segment of the agriculture sector, not only in Michigan, but throughout North America. Overlooked until quite recently by USDA (the United States Department of Agriculture), the study supports a growing body of literature underscoring the economic and cultural contribution of these family farms to local and state economies. The article also discussed some of the current challenges facing operators of agricultural tourism venues.
American Geographical Society: How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
Gregory Veeck: The quantitative results of this survey and subsequent analyses, while specific to Michigan, underscore the growing importance of agricultural tourism throughout the United States and North America as identified in scores of other studies. Challenges for operators in Michigan were found to be similar to those in other states and provinces. Further, the article links the rise of agricultural tourism to literatures related to the mitigation of risks that developed with the post-WTO globalization of commodity crop production.
American Geographical Society: What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?
1. We estimate that agricultural tourism operations in Michigan employ over 4,000 full time workers, and 28,000 part-time employees, while generating over $400 million in annual sales.
2. The lack of agreement on a universal term for agricultural tourism and the activities that constitute agricultural tourism limits effective political lobbying efforts, sector promotion, and reduces membership in the state’s agricultural tourism association.
3. Agricultural tourism has grown in popularity in part due to consumer interests in local foods, organic foods, and support for local economies, but also because small and medium-scale farmers are increasingly uncompetitive in wholesale horticultural product markets due to increased global and national competition.
American Geographical Society: What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?
1. Agricultural tourism operations have rapidly increased in number and scale largely due to two major factors: (1) a shift in consumer preferences and (2) the need for small scale farms to generate new sources of income in the face of lower wholesale prices for crops due to the globalization of agriculture.
2. Extrapolation of survey results derived from a moderately-sized sample to a total population has significant potential for the estimation of econometric variables in the absence of a complete census.
American Geographical Society: How does your research help us think about Geography?
Gregory Veeck: There are several inherently “geographic” factors incorporated in this study of the benefits of agricultural tourism for Michigan farm families and consumers. The location of family farms near urban areas dramatically expands options in terms of the foods and services offered to visitors as does a location within tourist areas of the state. Agricultural tourism operations in Michigan represent a bona fide rural development option given rural population decline due to few employment options in rural areas throughout the state.
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