With commodity prices ever a concern, landowners across America are always hunting for ways to maximize returns from their property. Too often, those living in the rural zones take for granted the value of the lifestyle afforded their surroundings. Meanwhile, city folks are more than happy to spend a few dollars by way of agritourism.
In my own case, as owner of a farm in west-central Indiana, I’ve been able to incorporate a few of these into my own property, having a little fun along the way, and covering more than the annual property taxes and insurance premiums. While specific ideas might not work for everyone, keep in mind that opportunities are born from ideas shared.
Extreme XC racing
The opportunity to host an extreme cross country race on my property actually came by way of my tenant farmer, who was himself first approached as the promoters sought a site. Cross country racing is an incredibly popular sport featuring quads and motorbikes. And participants like wooded farms. My own 200 acres happens to feature about 100 acres of woods, complete with a large creek, pond, and spill pile, which those in coal country know to be the pond left over from mining operations a century ago. The group that promoted the race on my farm, The Eel River Run, was an outstanding example of rural enthusiasts who happen to love the outdoors and the experience was positive on all fronts.
Because the event was hosted over Mother’s Day weekend, no soybeans had yet been planted in my fields, and so we used my front pasture and barnyard as parking. The landowner’s money comes from the gate collections, and this arrangement can vary by organization, league and landowner, whether that’s per head or per automobile collection. Granted, the event is highly weather dependent, and so revenue is the same kind of gamble to which farmers are long accustomed. But my own event brought in a little over 500 people from that Friday through Sunday, most of whom camped out. In addition to the racers, the organizers supplied their own port-a-pots and food vendors, making for a great carnival atmosphere, as well as a very profitable weekend enterprise.
A quick Internet search under the terms “Cross Country Racing Series” will generate a number of organizers around the country. Interestingly enough, on my own Indiana farm, I noticed license plates from as far away as Texas. Make sure the league is properly vetted and carries liability insurance for the event, and in all ways perform due diligence, with the understanding that events such as these could generate for the landowner anywhere from $3,000 to $30,000 for a weekend, but the dangers of racing are ever-present.
In addition to one-time activities, landowners might consider leasing their property out to hunters or other sporting folk. Growing up in rural Indiana myself, I now know how spoiled I was as a kid with the blessings of my own parents’ and grandparents’ properties. I never dreamed that people would actually pay other people to hunt on their property. Years later, as the owner of property myself, I was quickly introduced to this by way of hunters’ offerings.
According to a recent Agricultural Marketing Resource Center report, public access hunting is nearly nonexistent in many states, and well over $10 billion is being spent annually by millions of sportsmen and sportswomen seeking land for hunting, fishing, and shooting. Lease prices vary by market and property, but studies suggest that the average acreage for hunting leases is about 900 acres with values ranging from as little as $150 up to over $60,000, with the average being about $10 per acre.
Landowners interested in this can search online for any number of hunting groups offering to lease ground at various rates. In my own case, I opted to go with some family friends who go in together to lease properties. To that extent, my own 200 acres brings me $1,600 annually for hunting rights, a little less than the national average. However, knowing the people who will be coming out to the property throughout various seasons is worth it to me. If you’re not a hunter, keep in mind, these folks take their sport quite seriously and some will be more litigious in terms of the agreement than others. As a producer, remember that deer season and harvest may coincide some years depending on the weather, and so having a group with whom you’re comfortable makes a big difference.
From corn mazes and pumpkin patches to roadside farmers markets and timber sales, landowners need to keep thinking about new ways to generate revenue outside the traditional crop cycle. Agritourism continues to boom throughout the country as urban sprawl makes more precious our parcels. These types of events tend to draw a straight cash revenue with little additional investment required. And you never know, a full secondary business could always be born from such an idea.
Brian Boyce is an award-winning writer living on a farm in west-central Indiana. You can see more of his work at www.boycegroupinc.com.