“Six years ago I had never heard of agri-tourism. As far as I was concerned, I had inherited the farm and I would be a farmer all my life.”(Jim Walker,

“Six years ago I had never heard of agri-tourism. As far as I was concerned, I had inherited the farm and I would be a farmer all my life.”(Jim Walker, Blackberry ll Farm) The ‘agri-tourism’ that Jim was referring to is ‘a commercial enterprise at a working farm, or other agricultural centre, conducted for the enjoyment of visitors that generates supplemental income for the owner’. “Farming has become a tough business,” says Jim. “Low world prices, a reduction in subsidies, and increasingly uncertain weather patterns have made it a far more risky business than when I first inherited the farm. Yet, because of our move into the tourist trade we are flourishing. Also… I’ve never had so much fun in my life”. But, Jim warns, agri-tourism isn’t for everyone. “You have to think carefully. Do you really want to do it? kind of lifestyle do you want? How open-minded are you to new ideas? How business-minded are you? Are you willing to put a lot of effort into marketing your business? Above all, do you like working with people? If you’d rather be around cows than people, it isn’t the business for you.” Blackberry ll Farm was a 200-hectare mixed farm in the south of England when Jim and Mandy Walker inherited it fifteen years ago. It was primarily a cereal-growing operation with a small dairy herd, some fruit and vegetable growing and mixed woodland that was protected by local preservation laws. Six years ago it had become evident to Jim and Mandy that they might have to rethink how the farm was being managed. “We first started a pick-your-own (PYO) operation because our farm is close to several large centres of population. Also the quantities of fruit and vegetables that we were producing were not large enough to interest the commercial buyers. Entering the PYO market was a reasonable success and in spite of making some early mistakes, it turned our fruit and vegetable growing operation from making a small loss to making a small profit. Most importantly, it gave us some experience of how to deal with customers face-to-face and of how to cope with unpredictable demand. The biggest variable in PYO sales is weather. Most business occurs at the weekends between late spring and early autumn. If rain keeps customers away during part of those weekends, nearly all sales have to occur in just a few days.” Within a year of opening up the PYO operation, Jim and Mandy had decided to reduce the area devoted to cereals and increase their fruit and vegetable growing capability. At the same time they organised a petting zoo that allowed children to mix with, feed and touch various animals. “We already had our own cattle and poultry but we extended the area and brought in pigs and goats. Later we also introduced some rabbits, ponies and donkeys, and even a small bee-keeping operation.” At the same time, the farm started building up its collection of ‘farm heritage’ exhibits. These were static displays of old farm implements and ‘recreations’ of farming processes together with information displays. This had always been a personal interest of Jim’s and it allowed him to convert two existing farm outbuildings to create a ‘Museum of Farming Heritage’. The year after, they introduced tractor rides for visitors around the whole farm and extended the petting zoo and farming tradition exhibits further. But the most significant investment was in the ‘Preserving Kitchen’. “We had been looking for some way of using the surplus fruits and vegetable that we occasionally accumulated and also for some kind of products that we could sell in a farm shop. We started the Preserving Kitchen to make jams and fruit, vegetables and sauces preserved in jars. The venture was an immediate success. We started making just 50 kilograms of preserves a week; within three months that had grown 300 kilograms a week and we are now producing around 1,000 kilogrammes a week, all under the ‘Blackberry ll Farm’ label.” The following year, the preserving kitchen was extended and a viewing area added. “It was a great attraction from the beginning,” says Mandy, “We employed ladies from the local village to make the preserves. They are all extrovert characters, so when we asked them to dress up in traditional ‘farmers’ wives’ type clothing they were happy to do it. The visitors love it, especially the good-natured repartee with our ladies. The ladies also enjoy giving informal history lessons when we get school parties visiting us.” Within the last two years, the farm had further extended its preserving kitchen, farm shop, exhibits and petting zoo. It had also introduced a small adventure playground for the children, a café serving drinks and its own produce, a picnic area and a small bakery. The bakery was also open to be viewed by customers and staffed by bakers in traditional dress. “It’s a nice little visitor attraction,” says Mandy, “and it gives us another opportunity to squeeze more value out of our own products.” Table 11.3 (a) shows last year’s visitor numbers; table 11.3 (b) shows the farm’s opening times. Table 11.3 (a) Number of visitors last year January –Mid-March – Wednesday–Sunday Mid-March– May – Tuesday–Sunday 9.00–18.00 May–September – All week 8.30–19.00 October –November – Tuesday–Sunday December – Tuesday–Sunday 9.00–18.00 *Special Evening events Easter, summer weekends and Christmas The number of visitors to the farm was extremely seasonal. From a low point in January and February, when most people just visited the farm shop, the spring and summer months could be very busy, especially on public holidays. The previous year, Mandy had tracked the number of visitors arriving at the farm each day. “It is easy to record the number of people visiting the farm attractions, because they pay the entrance charge. we had not done before is include the people who just visited the farm shop and bakery that can be accessed both from within the farm and from the car park. We estimate that the number of people visiting the shop but not the farm ranges from 74 per cent in February down to around 15 per cent in August.” Figure 11.17 shows the number of visitors in the previous year’s August. “ our figures do not include are those people who visit the shop but don’t buy anything. This is unlikely to be a large number.” Mandy had also estimated the average stay at the farm and/or farm shop. She reckoned that in winter time the average stay was 45 minutes, but in August it climbed to 3.1 hours. (Figure 11.17 and 11.18 around here) Both Jim and Mandy agreed that their lives had fundamentally changed over the last few years. Income from visitors and from the Blackberry ll brand of preserves now accounted for 70 per cent of the farm’s revenue. More importantly, the whole enterprise was significantly more profitable than it had ever been. Nevertheless, the farm faced a number of issues. The first was the balance between its different activities. Jim was particularly concerned that the business remained a genuine farm. “When you look at the revenue per hectare, visitor and production activities bring in far more revenue than conventional agricultural activities. However, if we push the agri-tourism too far we become no better than a theme park. We represent something more than this to our visitors. They come to us partly because of what we represent as well as what we actually do. I am not sure that we would want to grow much more. Anyway, more visitors would mean that we would have to extend the car park. That would be expensive, and although it would be necessary, it does not directly bring in any more revenue. There are already parking problems during peak period and we have had complaints from the police that our visitors park inappropriately on local roads.” “There is also the problem of complexity. Every time we introduce a new attraction, the whole business gets that little bit more complex to manage. Although we enjoy it tremendously, both Mandy and I are spreading ourselves thinly over an ever-widening range of activities. Mandy was also concerned over this. “I’m starting to feel that my time is being taken up in managing the day-to-day problems of the business. This does not leave time either for thinking about the overall direction in which we should be going, or spending time talking with the staff. That is why we both see this coming year as a time for consolidation and for smoothing out the day-to-day problems of managing the business, particularly the queuing, which is getting excessive at busy times. That is why this year we are limiting ourselves to just one new venture for the business.” Staff management was also a concern for Mandy. The business had grown to over 80 (almost all part-time and seasonal) employees. “We have become a significant employer in the area. Most of our employees are still local people working part-time for extra income but we are also now employing 20 students during the summer period and, last year, eight agricultural students from Eastern Europe. But now, labour is short in this part of the country and it is becoming more difficult to attract local people, especially to produce Blackberry ll Farm Preserves. Half of the Preserving Kitchen staff work all year, with the other employed during the summer and autumn periods. But most of them would prefer guaranteed employment throughout the year.” Table 11.4 gives more details of some of the issues of managing the facilities at the farm, and table 11.5 shows the preserve demand and production for the previous year. *Technical problems reduced production level By the ‘consolidation’ and improvement of ‘day-to-day’ activities Jim and Mandy meant that they wanted to increase their revenue, while at the same time reducing the occasional queues that they knew could irritate their visitors, preferably without any significant investment in extra capacity. They also wanted to offer more stable employment to the Preserving Kitchen ‘Ladies’ throughout the year, who would produce at a near constant rate. However, they were not sure if this could be done without storing the products for so long that their shelf life would be seriously affected. There was no problem with the supply of produce to keep production level; less than 2 per cent of the fruit and vegetables that went into the preserves were actually grown on the farm. The remainder were bought at wholesale markets, although this was not generally understood by customers. Of the many ideas being discussed as candidates for the ‘one new venture’ for next year, two were emerging as particularly attractive. Jim liked the idea of developing a maize maze, a type of attraction that had become increasingly popular in Europe and North America in the last five years. It involved planting a field of maize (corn) and, once grown, cutting through a complex serious of paths in the form of a maze. Evidence from other farms indicated that a maze would be extremely attractive to visitors and Jim reckoned that it could account for up to an extra ten thousand visitors during the summer period. Designed as a separate activity with its own admission charge, it would require an investment of around £20,000, but generate more than twice that in admission charges as well as attracting more visitors to the farm itself. Mandy favoured the alterative idea – that of building up their business in organised school visits. “Last year we joined the National Association of Farms for Schools. There advice is that we could easily become one of the top school attractions in this part of England. Educating visitors about farming tradition is already a major part of what we do. And many of our staff have developed the skills to communicate to children exactly what farm life used to be like. We would need to convert and extend one of our existing underused farm outbuildings to make a ‘school room’ and that would cost between and £30,000 and £35,000. And although we would need to discount our admission charge substantially, I think we could break even on the investment within around two years.” Table 11.6 Customer Data Base All coursework assignments and other forms of assessment must be submitted by the published deadline which is detailed above. It is your responsibility to know when work is due to be submitted – ignorance of the deadline date will not be accepted as a reason for late or non-submission.

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