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Opinion: Wineries lead state agritourism boom

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As more people shift their roots to urban from rural settings, the rural areas have been forced to be creative in how to grow their economic opportunities and get people back into the countryside. The past decade has seen an explosion of wineries, “U-Pick” farms, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, Community Supported Agriculture programs, children’s farm activities and all manner of other unique destinations. This burgeoning industry is known as agritourism.

Undoubtedly, the most successful and visible agritourism niche so far has been Missouri’s wineries. Over 130 wineries bring more than 875,700 wine tourists to our state each year, according to 2017 data from the Missouri Wine and Grape Board. The total economic impact on Missouri from wineries alone exceeds $3.2 billion, raising over $144 million in taxes for the state treasury.

But agritourism is not just about wineries. Missouri Farm Bureau maintains a database of agritourism venues across the state, and the list now contains over 500 entries. Every corner of the state has unique places to visit for young and old alike.

Farmers regularly seek advice from the Missouri Farm Bureau about how to get involved in agritourism. A growing movement among urban and suburban families to connect back with nature and food has contributed to the massive growth in this area, and these farmers want to tap into that sentiment to create rural destination businesses.

The seventh annual Missouri Agritourism Conference was recently held in Cape Girardeau. The conference provided help to people looking to start agritourism businesses, as well as ideas and suggestions for current owners to improve their own operations. The Missouri Farm Bureau, the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s Missouri Grown program and the Missouri Wine and Grape Board hosted the event.

Some of the best advice at the conference came from featured speaker Jon Schallert, a business coach and expert in running destination businesses. Jon encouraged each agribusiness entrepreneur to determine the one thing that makes their business completely unique – something that no one else on earth can claim. Talking with attendees, it became clear that no two agritourism destinations are the same. They all have a unique twist on how they connect agriculture to people’s lives.

This fall, check out some of these unique Missouri agritourism destinations with your family. Don’t just try the ones close to home – branch out and make a day trip to a location an hour or two away. Whether it’s a winery, a harvest festival or something one-of-a-kind, you will not be disappointed by these opportunities to get out and enjoy Missouri agriculture in person.

Eric Bohl is director of public affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau in Columbia. He can be reached at publicaffairs@mofb.com.

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