I read an article recently about the ongoing rise of agritourism in Tasmania.
It made me think about this niche form of domestic tourism and its potential for our farmers and agriculture industry.
It's obviously something our legislators are taking more seriously, too, with the NSW Department of Planning and Environment ushering in a raft of changes in December last year around agritourism in the state.
The amendments aim to simplify planning terms to make it easier for farmers to know how they can use their land for new income streams, and minimising red tape around these activities.
There are so many great stories out there about farm businesses that opened their doors to visitors and are reaping the benefits from both a personal and business perspective. From the broader outlook of the national and state economies, the benefits are certainly there, with Tasmania growing its agritourism into a sector worth $1.1 billion annually.
It's heartening to see that different levels of government are also seeing the potential here and considering and introducing measures that will ultimately make it easier for interested farmers to expand the focus of their business to include tourism opportunities. This must be an ongoing process to ensure a move into agritourism is not so onerous as to discourage people from giving it a go and exploring the benefits that can flow from the experience.
As well as potentially increasing the profitability of a farming operation by introducing another income stream, people who have taken the plunge and opened the gates of their businesses say they've enjoyed other benefits as well. They get a satisfaction from meeting new people, often from very different backgrounds to their own and from introducing those who may be unfamiliar with agriculture to the virtues of rural and regional Australia, showing them just where their food and fibre comes from and how it's produced.
This aspect has two-fold benefits. I recently shared in this column research funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry that considered the key drivers of workforce retention and attraction across rural industries. It surveyed the opinions of those in these industries, as well as people without any real knowledge of, or experience in, the rural sector.
Among the many findings from the research was that many in our cities lack knowledge around these rural industries and that the more people felt a connection with the land, the more likely they were to consider working in the rural sector.
So, one of the obvious benefits from this increase in agritourism is the education aspect - people can't understand what they can't see.
The more we can expose city dwellers to agriculture and rural and regional communities, the greater their connection and appreciation for what the industry has to offer, as well as a greater appreciation for our farmers and the importance of protecting our agricultural land and pursuits.
Increasing understanding works to bridge that sometimes enormous gap between city and country so it becomes less "us against them" and more "we're actually closer than we think". There is obviously a lot of time, commitment and resources involved in becoming an agritourism operator, and it certainly won't be for everyone. But for those who decide to take the plunge, it seems there's a lot to be gained - on both sides of the farm gate.