The new ‘cash crop’ in the U.S. is here


IF YOU WANT TO KNOW how big agriculture-related tourism, or agritourism, is in Florida and how quickly it’s growing, you can always dig into the economic numbers. But, really, you don’t have to do that. All you really have to know are two things:

1. Since 2013, Florida lawmakers have passed two major bills to encourage, bolster, and protect agritourism enterprises all across the Sunshine State.

2. Florida agritourism operators have the support of a fairly new industry association and promotional help through the group’s website.

Small segments of the economy rarely garner that kind of attention, which is to say that agritourism has become a significant slice of Florida’s overall ag-industry pie. One of the University of Florida’s ag-related websites puts it this way: “Agritourism marries Florida’s two largest industries, tourism and agriculture, to provide an on-farm recreational experience for consumers.”

ABOUT THE LEGISLATION

In 2013, the Florida Legislature passed, and Gov. Rick Scott signed, SB 1106. The bill better defined agritourism activity in the Florida Statutes, strengthened agritourism opportunities for the state’s farmers and ranchers, and provided limited liability protection for agritourism operators.

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed HB 59, a top legislative priority for the Florida Farm Bureau. The bureau says the bill, which Gov. Scott signed into law May 23 at a Lakeland-area farm, was necessary for two key reasons: to assure that farmers will be allowed to open their properties for civic and ceremonial events, and to prohibit cities and counties from imposing certain regulations on agritourism enterprises.

ABOUT THE ASSOCIATION

The Florida Agritourism Association was formed in 2013, partly as a result of SB 1106. The association is “dedicated to the promotion and expansion of agritourism activities in the state of Florida through education and advocacy on behalf of its members.” Promoting agritourism as “the ultimate field trip,” the association has a website — visitfloridafarms.com — that serves agritourism operators and visitors seeking an “agri-adventure.”

ABOUT THE NUMBERS

According to UF, Florida’s agriculture, natural resources, and related industries provide more than 1.6 million jobs and an annual economic impact of $76.5 billion. As part of that, agritourism, or “agritainment,” has become one of the state’s fastest-growing markets and — by hosting fall festivals, wine tastings, corn maze tours, and other events — a great way for farms to supplement their income. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the number of Florida farms offering recreational experiences more than doubled from 281 in 2007 to 724 in 2012. With that type of growth, agritourism really is, as one UF report says, “the new cash crop in the U.S.”

CREDIT

column by BAXTER TROUTMAN

BIO: Baxter Troutman is founder and chief executive officer of Labor Solutions, a staffing company with offices in Bartow, Winter Haven, Lake Wales, and Arcadia. A citrus grower who served in the Florida House of Representatives, Troutman understands the challenges and concerns of today’s farmer.