At a time when input costs for fertilizer and fuel are historically high, an initiative through Montana State University is aimed at helping farmers and ranchers realize additional revenue streams through agritourism. The project would also serve to educate the public about production agriculture in the state.
Research from the University of Montana found that in 2021 tourism and spending in Montana recovered from the pandemic and even surpassed 2019 levels. In its non-resident visitation, expenditures, and economic impact estimates, The Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research said more than 12 million non-residents visited Montana last year and spent an estimated $5.15 billion. The institute reports that Montana’s tourism industry recovered faster and was not as deeply affected by the pandemic compared to the rest of the country.
Dr. Shannon Arnold, Professor of Ag Education in the College of Agriculture at MSU, says agritourism has great potential for producers in Montana.
“Agriculture and tourism are the two biggest industries in Montana”, said Arnold “they (tourists) are wanting to experience more of the outdoors and learn more about rural lifestyles, so I think agritourism can help producers to diversify their business, but also educate the public about agriculture by offering different types of agritourism activities on their farms and ranches.”
Dr. Arnold has earned a Western Sustainable Ag Research and Education grant to promote agritourism in Montana. The state agritourism steering committee, which Dr. Arnold is a member of, is trying to move toward becoming an association for agritourism in the state.
To do this, they are searching for 12 leaders to take part in the Montana Agritourism Fellows Program: Developing Leaders to Advance Sustainable Agritourism. The committee is searching for professionals in a variety of occupations to advance communications with the ag community.
“We’re looking for any agricultural producers or agricultural professionals,” Arnold said, “We’re also looking for people that are interested in extension, tourism, economic and community development, even government employees. We really want to target those people that can work with farmers, ranchers, professionals, and communities about what agritourism is, what sustainable agricultural practices are, and how those could be coupled with different agritourism activities that would be viable on different operations”.
The Montana Agritourism Fellows Program will take place over 2 years. Participants will attend 4 unique 2-day seminars hosted at various sustainable agritourism operations across Montana, consisting of workshops, tours, and networking opportunities. Fellows will gain knowledge about sustainable agriculture/agritourism and skills through exposure to industry issues, experiences, and experts. They will also learn how to advocate for sustainable agritourism and conduct outreach events for industry promotion.
Dr. Arnold said one of the desired outcomes for the fellows’ program would be holding a statewide Agritourism conference.
For more information about the Montana Agritourism Fellows Program contact Dr. Shannon Arnold at Shannon.firstname.lastname@example.org or 406-994-6663.
To apply for the program visit https://montana.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_0uKaX2p0D4qjXkq
Submissions are due by October 1st, 2022.
Northern Ag Network, University of Montana, Montana State University