HONOLULU — By maximizing the recreational value of their land, farmers and ranchers could reap an additional $20,000 per year without sowing a single seed, Daryl Jones of the Natural Resources Enterprises Program at Mississippi State University told attendees at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 93rd annual meeting.
A recent study in Mississippi showed recreational potential increased land value by $654 per acre, or 52 percent. That’s on top of the agricultural and timber value of the land, and it’s not unique to Mississippi.
Allowing the public onto private land to hunt, fish, bird watch and ride horses can be a boon for the environment too, since farmers and ranchers are providing a home to a thriving wildlife population.
Jones also pointed out that the state gets a bump by the landowners’ increased incomes and from all the recreational tourists, including international guests, who are drawn to the region.
“It takes a lot of money to get an auto company to open a plant in rural America, but what comes from these enterprises is a ‘real-time’ impact,” he explained.
People from around the world travel to rural areas to hunt, fish and stay in bed and breakfasts, but urbanites from the cities that border rural areas are a ready-made client base. As are those who grew up on farms and ranches and want their city-raised children to get a taste of rural life.
Jones encouraged farmers and ranchers to start small and diversify over time, making sure they work with their land.
“You might not want to start a fishing enterprise if you don’t even have a pond on your property,” he cautioned.
And while landowners should get quite specific in their business plan, he urged them to look at the big picture and consider what recreational tourists really want — entertainment.
“People want to be entertained on your farm,” he said. “They want to see your place. They want to talk to you.”
They are also interested in a cultural experience. Mississippians “invented rock n’ roll,” Jones said. “We invented country. That is culture and it brings people in.”
There are some challenges to recreational diversification, such as securing the appropriate insurance coverage and protecting against risks in nature, like wasp stings and normal farming practices.
Jones described how the NRE program helps farmers and ranchers in Mississippi and beyond who are considering integrating recreational activities with their current farm, forestry and ranch practices.
Part of the support the program provides is on-site workshops during which growers hear presentations from professionals and landowners who have launched recreational enterprises. How-to information, such as what will work best on the farm and the availability of federal programs, is also discussed.
Jones likes to get community leaders involved, too. Jones and his team are planning advanced workshops that will delve into business planning and legal considerations.