Farmers should view the growing popularity of 'agritourism' as an opportunity to add value to their crops, stock and fibre - rather than just offering travellers a bed or rural 'experience'.
That is according to Kay Tommerup, of Tommerup's Dairy Farm, who has diversified her family's operation to 'milk' the benefits of increasing tourist numbers and general consumer interest in knowing the origins of their food.
Operating a 45-head working micro-dairy with her husband Dave and children Harry and Georgia on their 80-hectare property at Kerry - in Queensland's Scenic Rim region - the pair started changing the business mix in 2008 after deregulation of the industry forced them to look at new ways to be sustainable.
"We needed to adjust to be viable, and we realised we didn't want to be dependent on the whims of dairy industry pricing," she said.
"Now we are fully in control of our own success."
We encourage locals and tourists to visit the property, see what we do here and buy our super-fresh produce
The Tommerups started by opening up the family farm, established in 1874, to day visitors - who could see milking in action and feed animals.
Located about 1.5 hours from Brisbane and the Gold Coast, they recognised the challenges of attracting people to the region for day trips - but were able to capitalise on regular tourist traffic from a nearby farmstay.
They set up two short-stay farm accommodation facilities on the property in the late 2000s to house big and small groups, and these continue to attract multi-generations.
"We find a lot of older people bring their kids and grandkids to stay and we show them what happens on a dairy farm - and they can eat and buy our fresh products," Mrs Tommerup said.
She said the next step was establishing an on-farm 'larder' shopfront for retail customers, from where they sold their paddock-raised and bottle-fed dairy veal meat cuts, heritage pork, grassfed lamb, smoked meats and pastured free range eggs.
The success of the farm larder proved to the Tommerups that customers would pay a premium for good quality products, sourced directly from the farmgate.
There is certainly a growing consumer base that seeks out that connection to their food producer.
"Knowing the story behind the product - and meeting the farmer who produced it - creates a higher value perception for a lot of people," Mrs Tommerup said.
"There is certainly a growing consumer base that seeks out that connection to their food producer."
Mrs Tommerup said the success of the farm larder gave the family confidence to consider options for generating higher returns from their dairy operation as well.
They built a small creamery on the farm to value-add to their fresh milk.
Although the recent drought has meant they have halved their dairy herd numbers, they are able to produce a range of artisan fresh cream, creme fraiche, ice cream and cultured butter using a small portion of their milk production.
Taking this step sideways with the dairy has given the Tommerups the confidence to 'go it alone' to process their entire milk production in the coming months of 2020.
They estimate value-adding their milk to these types of niche market products generates up to five times the income of sending it to a big processor.
Opening the gate
Building on the progression into value-added dairy and food lines, the Tommerup family has recently shifted things up another gear to trial an 'open farmgate' event that also involved several local producers from the wider regional area.
"This was like a market day, but spread across a few farms in the Scenic Rim," Mrs Tommerup said.
"We encouraged locals and tourists to visit the properties, see what producers do and buy our super-fresh produce.
"Ideally, we would like to expand this concept to include a cluster of many local farmers, selling their own specialist produce.
"This would open marketing opportunities for them - and potentially attract more visitors for all of us in the region.
"We need to offer a full experience because there are not many other day visit-type attractions and experiences in our immediate area - and it is a reasonable drive to get here from Brisbane and the coast."
Ideally, we would like to expand this concept to include a cluster of many local farmers, selling their own specialist produce.
Wandering out yonder
Mrs Tommerup said this required a change of mindset among many farmers about the meaning of agritourism.
"I believe it is all about value-adding to our primary products and resources that we already have on our farms - whatever they are - to attract and educate people who are interested in their food and fibre sources, rather than just thinking about providing accommodation or a farm experience," she said.
"Agritourism need not mean having people come to stay on the farm all the time, which can be exhausting - especially if it is a family-run operation.
"I don't think we necessarily need to change our daily primary production operations to be successful in the tourism space.
"The evolution of value-adding to what we are already producing and then marketing that - in collective groups if that works better - could be a viable, and more rewarding, way to go."
The Tommerup's approach to agritourism is feeding into a new Queensland Farmers' Federation (QFF) and Regionality collaborative initiative to develop and grow this industry from the grassroots-up.
This project aims to set up direct connections between farmers and consumers to share Queensland's high quality food, fibre and foliage - and knowledge about its sources.
Collaboration for growth
Stakeholders from government, tourism, regional development, agriculture, small business and infrastructure are being encouraged to work together to make Queensland the number one agritourism destination in Australia.
QFF chief executive officer Georgina Davis said agritourism was estimated to be worth about $5 billion to the state economy by 2030.
"It provides opportunities for farmers to supplement their income and market their produce through alternative channels," she said.
"At the same time, they will be gathering valuable direct feedback - including emerging preferences from consumers.
"This is especially pertinent during the current COVID-19 pandemic and as on-farm costs grow."
Dr Davis said the agritourism initiative included training and resources for farmers to help them develop profitable agritourism enterprises.
Regionality managing director Rose Wright said without the necessary tools and skills, farmers were often unable to capitalise on these opportunities and turn funding support to profit.
"There are many regulatory and compliance barriers that farmers need to identify and work through if they intend to set up an agritourism enterprise and be successful," she said.
"Our job is to ensure our farmers and their regional communities are fully supported to develop their own unique agritourism offerings, that also meet customer needs and expectations."
- More information: Tommerup's Dairy Farm, 07 5544 9269, email@example.com
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