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While agri-tainment and agritourism may be a viable objective for many farm and ranch owners, it is proving to be a successful venture for the many who are willing to plow new trails and opportunities to succeed with their rural offerings.
Every farmer and rancher knows the uncertainties associated with agricultural production. Escalating input costs, the pressures of disease and drought, political standoffs and delays over farm legislation, and the need to keep up with new technology developments are all factors that can make agriculture a winning or losing enterprise.
On any given year a multitude of these and other challenges can determine the success or failure of a farm or ranching operation which, in turn, will determine whether the farm or ranch will be in the red or in the black at year’s end. With such a variable financial outcome, many farming and ranching families have turned to alternative ways of producing revenue to supplement agricultural efforts.
For some this means one or more family members seek off-farm employment while other family members continue raising crops or livestock. In recent times, a growing number of farming families have discovered the value of generating non-traditional farm income by offering products or services to the public that go beyond traditional crop or livestock offerings.
Some, like Stowers Farm in Hunt, Texas, attract non-rural visitors who are looking to connect with nature and the great outdoors. Visitors to this farm can hike on designated nature trails that weave through the pristine Hill Country landscape, try their hand at fly fishing on a creek, sit in a blind for birding opportunities or to snap wildlife photographs.
At other nature farms visitors can enjoy chuck wagon cook outs and cowboy poetry, trail riding or trail driving; a few offer the chance to get your hands dirty working in an herb garden or nursery.
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On other farm operations, like the very successful Marburger Orchard near Fredericksburg, Texas, visitors can pick-their-own fruit and other specialty crops, including peaches, blackberries, tomatoes and vegetables in season. And it doesn't stop there. In Texas the list of farm and ranch attractions is growing. Seasonal attractions include pumpkin patches, corn mazes, Christmas tree farms and the like, and some offer pony rides, hay rides, and living history exhibits year round.
Successful agri-tainment and agritourism operations in Texas also include hunting leases, fishing camps, vineyard/orchard tours, adventure farms that offer zip lines, rafting or canoeing trips as special attractions. At least one creative ranch owner offers helicopter rides to weekend visitors, meaning (you might say), that when it comes to creating or staging attractions, events and activities on your farm or ranch to generate non-traditional farm revenue, the sky truly is the limit.
While it would require more space than available to list histories behind every successful agritourism operation in the state, the story behind two very different farm and ranch attractions in Texas might illustrate the spectrum of imaginative and creative operations launched in recent times.
In one instance, a rural piece of property, for years a rice farm in southeast Texas, was purchased by a working entomologist and crop consultant who abandoned crop production in favor of opening a major farm-style theme park targeting families in the greater Houston metro area. The other is a South Texas heritage ranching family who went to great extremes to create interest in the rich ranching history of Texas by developing attractions that educate, inform and entertain while sharing the values of rural lifestyles with inquisitive visitors.