Farm Panel Offers Insights on Agritourism
Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
A panel of farmers practicing agritourism shared their successes at a natural resource enterprises workshop sponsored by the LSU AgCenter on Nov. 9 at Curry Farms near Rayville.
Natural resource enterprises include agritourism, trail riding, fee hunting or fishing, and bed and breakfasts.
“Agriculture settings that provide entertainment and learning are in demand,” said Dora Ann Hatch, LSU AgCenter agritourism coordinator. “We want to take you from the idea stage to something you’d love to do in the future.”
State Rep. Andy Anders, of Vidalia, who authored legislation that limits liability for certain agritourism operations, kicked off the event, saying agritourism is a venture that provides supplemental income.
“I started out with guided quail hunts in 2000,” he said. “My insurance went from $400 a year to where the insurance business priced me out.”
“Liability is a huge issue if you have an enterprise,” Hatch said.
That was echoed by Mike Massey, an attorney. “The No. 1 issue that stops people dead in their tracks is the fear of lawyers,” he said. “Make sure you have liability coverage.
“Don’t be afraid to be the bad guy. Put good rules in place,” Massey said. “Get liability waivers signed. Avoid problems on the front end.”
To invoke the limitation of liability provided by state law, an agritourism professional must post and maintain a sign that contains a warning notice of assuming risk, said Carrie Castille, deputy assistant commissioner with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
The law does not replace any insurance policy, Castille said. To be eligible for certification with the agriculture department, plans of operation must first be sent to the LSU AgCenter, which forwards them to Castille.
Besides discussing legalities, Massey said that as a father he is “looking for ways to get our kids off of the computers and iPhones.
“If you’ve got a place like this, they’re not making any more of it,” he said from under a tent at Curry Farms.
Jerry Simpson told the group he began Papa Simpson’s in Arcadia when he was about to go broke in the dairy business. He now has up to 12,000 visitors a year. Guests take a ride on a sheltered cotton trailer full of hay bales out to see the animals, pet and bottle-feed baby animals, milk a cow and plant a crop. They also learn what each animal produces.
Simpson still has a production farm, but it went from 450 cows to 25.
Bentley Curry, whose farm hosted the event, said he and his wife, Sandy, enjoy the educational side, “letting kids know we produce things.”
Spread your wings a little wider than you’re thinking, he told the others. “I’m always thinking.”
Curry wants to offer a great pumpkin contest next year for 13 parishes. “I am going to get with 4-H’ers,” he said. “I’d love to have a 1,000-pound pumpkin on display.”
Michael May of Lazy Acres Plantation in Chunky, Miss., however, said a scarecrow contest at his farm flopped. It had only a few entries.
“Start small and work with what you have,” he said. “Is there anything that makes your farm unique? Build on that.”
May said he borrowed animals for his Noah’s Park that has since been re-themed.
He has a static display of old equipment, a little town with a “stop and goat” gas station and Mootel 6, pig races, Mays Maize Maze, pumpkin shot with prizes, skits from the Fire Department during Fire Safety Month, visits from the Chick-fil-A cow, a Christmas tree shaped like a snowman, tractor-drawn sleigh rides, ornament coloring, an indoor light show and plenty of photo opportunities.
As the panel was asked what they would do differently, Simpson suggested not having an Easter celebration because there is too much competition. “I haven’t really figured out advertising,” he added.
May said he uses billboards and is a now a big believer in Facebook ads.
Sandy Curry said she wished she had set up online booking earlier.
During the narrow window between pre-Halloween and Christmas, May said, additional employees are needed as drivers, face painters, gate operators and gift shop workers.
“We enjoy doing what we do,” May said. “It’s not something you are going to get into and make money quickly.”
He said initial concerns should be parking, electricity, control points and nice bathrooms. He has whiskey barrel sinks for the men.
Jackie Melsheimer of CM Farms in Reeves, which offers a haunted trail and corn maze, said she attended the workshop to learn something. “I jotted down some things,” she said. “I would love to go to Arcadia.”
Michael Prudhomme attended to get ideas to share with his family for acreage adjacent to Oakland Plantation in Natchitoches Parish.
Hatch told the 60 in attendance that if they have an agritourism venture, they need to be on MarketMaker, a free online tool for Louisiana producers, businesses and consumers launched by the LSU AgCenter. “You can link your website to it,” she said. “It’s free, absolutely free.”
An afternoon field trip included information on Curry’s Christmas tree production, pumpkin patch and corn maze. Other activities are a corn box with shelled corn, a horse-go-round, pitcher pump duck races, a choo-choo train, a petting zoo of goats, a hay slide, a climbing tree and swings.
Curry said that in the pumpkin business, “weird and ugly” are great.
In addition to the LSU AgCenter, sponsors included Mississippi State University’s Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture; the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry; the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation; the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries; Mississippi State University; Mississippi State University Extension Service; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Walton Family Foundation.
Lousiana State University Extension