United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced a new grant program, the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP). The program is aimed at providing access to private farm and ranch land for public use, on a voluntary basis by landowners, for activities such as hunting, fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking and bird watching. Secretary Vilsack cited economic development, fighting childhood obesity and the need for people to reconnect with the land as the benefits of this program.
According to the 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture, 23,350 farms indicated they provided agritourism and recreation services valued at $566 million. Of the total farms, 3,637 farms indicated gross farm receipts of $25,000 or more. Agritourism includes a wide array of farm and farm-related activities, including outdoor recreation (nature based tourism, fishing, hunting, wildlife study, horseback riding); educational experiences (day camps, hands-on chores, cannery tours, cooking classes, wine tasting, on-farm museums); entertainment (harvest festivals, barn dances, “petting” farms); and hospitality services (weddings, overnight farm or ranch stays, guided tours, on-farm direct sales, “pick-your-own” operations, roadside stands, farmers markets).
VPA-HIP will open enrolled private land to public use. Enrollment in the program is voluntary for landowners. Up to $50 million will be available to states and tribal governments through a competitive grant process. Grant recipients will be able to use the funding to provide higher rental payments, and provide technical and conservation services to landowners, thereby increasing the number of acres enrolled in the public access program.
The grant program opened July 8 and will remain open for 45 days, closing on Aug 23. Applications for grant funding may be made through the federal government’s grants portal – www.grants.gov. For the synopsis, log onto the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program page or for the VPA-HIP full announcement.
USDA Economic Research Service has publications that might help new business ventures understand what some of the issues are, including articles in their magazine, Amber Waves, and USDA’s Farm Based Recreation: A Statistical Profile.
The Ag Marketing Resource Center (AgMRC) offers lots of resources and things to consider, including insurance and liability issues for agritourism operators.