A PARTNERSHIP between a peak farming body and Airbnb has been formed as part of a concerted effort to bring valuable tourism dollars to regional Victoria and help farmers diversify their income.
The Victorian Farmers Federation and Airbnb partnership aims to help boost tourism infrastructure in regional areas to drive economic recovery - including through developing world-class farm stays and exciting new experiences that showcase the best of rural Victoria.
President Emma Germano said hosting an Airbnb can have multiple benefits for farmers.
"By hosting a farm stay, farmers can not only diversify their farm income, but also showcase the beautiful Victorian countryside and our vibrant food and fibre industry to visitors," she said.
"Through farm stays, farmers across Australia have an opportunity to make a contribution to growing their local tourism economy."
Crossley farmers Karrinjeet Singh-Mahil and Brian Schuler have an Airbnb farm stay at Crossley they have been operating for over 10 years.
The couple built their Herbs Hus Farmstay in 2011 and said it's the best thing they've done.
"It's all about engaging and connecting with people who live outside regional areas and giving people the opportunity to experience a farm," Ms Singh-Mahil said.
"You've got to think outside the square, you can diversify your farm and have multi-tiered farming.
"There isn't one thing you can do with your resources, there are many things you can do.
"If consumers can't give us stability in one product we can secure ourselves with multiple products.
"It's about spreading your risk, this Airbnb spreads our risk too and makes farming more fun."
Mr Schuler said it can also combat isolation often experienced on farms.
"You can get caught in your own little world," he said.
"When someone new comes in it's like a breath of fresh air.
"It's also an opportunity for the producer and consumer to come together.
"One guy who visited stood in the middle of a whole paddock of cows and his partner said he was in heaven, he was loving it.
"People don't get the chance to do that. All the guests have said they wish knew how to connect with people on farms again.
"It used to be the case that everyone knew someone who had a farm.
"They love to get out and connect with farmers."
Their south-west dairy farm spans 150 hectares with around 330 cows.
During the off season the farm stay provides an added layer of support.
"It's a little bit of cash flow at a time when cash flow is low, especially when everything's drying off in summer," Ms Singh-Mahil said.
"The costs have come up lately but the milk price is not everything; it is important but we have to examine our own business practices and we have to run them well.
"We are all responsible for running our businesses the way they should be run."
The pandemic has highlighted Australia's reliance on imported goods and Mr Schuler encourages people to support local producers.
"If the industry and consumer doesn't recognise the value of home-grown foods we will lose it all to imports.
"I think the supermarkets could do a lot more for the value of our milk and dairy products.
"It's so undersold when it's such a healthy product.
"The farmers bear the brunt of that. We can't do a lot if the costs come up, we just absorb it."
He said many farmers were leaving the industry and encourages other producers to consider branching out to options like farm stays.
"Thing about being a dairy farmer is once you lose your farm it's hard to get it back, and once you lose that skill base it's hard to re-learn it.
"The shame is when people want to leave the industry.
"We don't want to lose people in the industry who are passionate and encourage people to think outside the square so they continue doing what they love to do."
Ms Singh-Mahil and Mr Schuler lost their international market over the pandemic, but in its place saw a strong influx of domestic visitors.
"We haven't had people coming in but there's also not the people going out," Ms Singh-Mahil said.
"We've actually had a longer summer season, guests have been coming earlier and staying longer.
"Usually stays are short and sharp from Boxing Day to mid-January but this year it was before Christmas and the week after.
"People were hanging to get out into regional Victoria."
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The story Farm stay venture brings joy of farming experience to city dwellers first appeared on The Standard.