A group of Scottish farmers took the first steps towards Italy’s successful agritourism model by learning how to conduct farm tours for profit.
A course on South Balkello farm near Dundee demonstrated to eight farm businesses how to bring the working landscape alive for customers who might pay £20-£70 a head to be given a personal tour of a working farm.
Course organiser, Caroline Miller of agritourism company, Go Rural, said dozens of Scottish farmers were getting in touch every week, looking for new ways to bring more income to their businesses.
“Changes in financial circumstances are forcing people to think out of the box,” she said.
“Some of them are distressed and desperate to find new ways of making money and they’re looking at how to use assets already on the farm which aren’t just physical but are personal skills. We have taken farmers to Italy for the past two years where they’ve seen the success of agritourism and now they’re learning how to give paying customers the kind of experience they want.”
Mrs Miller said many farmers already took people on informal, unpaid tours and they were keen to create an informed official tour that people would pay to go on.
“They know plenty about their livestock and crops, but they need some training from a professional in order to get the confidence that they have a story that people are prepared to pay £20-£70 a head,” she added.
Mrs Miller, who runs the successful Hideaway farm stay experience, said there was increasing interest from customers who wanted to understand what farming was about.
“They want to hear the “rich” story about the history, culture, views and other aspects of wildlife and nature. It has to be about more than just agriculture,” said Mrs Miller.
Highland wildlife guide, Duncan MacDonald took the prospective tour operators on a guided walk of South Balkello and explained the techniques that bring tours alive.
“We all take what’s on our doorstep for granted so what I’m doing is helping farmers see what’s on that doorstep so that they can give customers a better sense of place and add value to the experience,” he said.
Mr MacDonald advised beginning a tour at the farmhouse and telling the story of the family and how long they had farmed the land.
“They want to know how old the buildings are, how big the farm is and people want to hear personal anecdotes. If they’ve been staying in accommodation on the farm they want to buy in to the whole story,” he said.