Scotland's agritourism industry goal is to have 1000 Scottish farming and crofting enterprises offering an agritourism experience, with at least 50% providing a food and drink element by 2030 – which could be worth £250m by then.

The recently released first Scottish Agritourism Growth Tracker report – compiled by VisitScotland on behalf of industry body Scottish Agritourism – also found the sector could support almost 10,000 full-time jobs by the end of this decade.

If the 1000 enterprise figure is hit, that would be double what the size of the market is at the moment. The survey also showed that of the 56 businesses that responded to a request for annual turnover, the average was more than £120,000 and from 105 responses, the data set showed that the average annual visitor figure was 5500.

Some 35% of businesses also sold produce direct to the consumer, including 15% from their own their farms, while 40% catered on site.

It found that as well as the opportunity for strong economic growth, the industry played an important role in sustaining and creating rural jobs, supporting vital family employment and providing equal and inclusive roles for men and woman across various ages and skill levels.

The report comes just as the Scottish Enterprise Agritourism Monitor Farm Programme had come to an end, and its benefits were recently endorsed by many of those who had taken part over the past few years, including the two current Monitor Farms which had thrown open the businesses for ideas and scrutiny.

All said that while the recent lockdowns brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic had caused serious hurt to their operations, it had also had the positive effect of some businesses re-inventing themselves and re-investing in the future because of the positivity in the industry.

Agritourism had become a growing travel trend, with visitors seeking out authentic rural experiences that connect them to the countryside and Scotland’s natural larder.

Increasingly farms, crofts and estates had developed visitor attractions, while a growing interest in connecting to nature and an awareness food and drink journeys also created new opportunities, pointed out the report.

A lot of the projected growth, though, will be dependent on the success of a new strategy designed to galvanise the country’s agriculture and tourism sectors, which was launched by Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, Mairi Gougeon, last November.

'Scottish Agritourism 2030 – The strategy for sustainable growth' aimed to sustainably develop the rural economy, protect family farms for future generations, build consumer awareness and loyalty towards local produce and celebrate the history and heritage of these important Scottish communities.

Key survey highlights:

• Agritourism provided an opportunity for multi-generational income, retaining on-farm careers and employment.

• Farm retail businesses had more female directors and business partners than farm only businesses.

• It provided an opportunity to add value to farm produce by selling directly to visitors, helping lower food miles and raise the profile of quality Scottish food and drink.

• The majority of respondents expressed a desire to promote their own and local produce by either offering eating options on site now or considering doing so in the future.

• Farm tours and accommodation were the most common activities by those involved in agritourism and those planning to be involved.

• The sector looks set to grow its farm stay offering with many respondents adding experiences, such as glamping, to their offering within the next three years.

• A wide range of assets were being used for agritourism activities, ranging from land and panoramic views to crops and historic connection to famous points in history.

• Agritourism is a year-round activity with facilities widely reported to be open throughout the year.

Rural Affairs Secretary, Mairi Gougeon, said the report highlighted the important role agritourism can play in building resilience in rural Scotland.

“It is very encouraging to see the promising results of this baseline survey, particularly as the survey returns provide some very positive indications of growth potential and the extent to white farm, croft businesses and estates can exploit the opportunities available to them,” she added.

Scottish Agritourism sector lead, Caroline Millar, welcomed the launch of the report and said diversifying into farm tours and experiences offered the double benefits of additional income and giving people a better understanding of farming and food production.

Monitor Farm experiences:

Kay Wilson, from from the family business, Lennox of Lomond, has led the creation of a diversified farm business near Loch Lomond and was one of the monitor farms bowing out this year.

This family business, which had started with on-farm tours and lambing experiences, had now progressed to having five glamping pods that allowed a more live-in farming experience, as well as developing more varied tours of the farm.

Demand had been 'huge' she said, adding: "We definitely would not have been able to support our two families that live and work on the farms from farming income alone, which was enough to support one household.

"The whole idea was to build a more resilient business capable of a sustainable income from the land even if, as expected, there was no farming support."

She also pointed out that the sector had piqued the interest of specialist trade tour business: “We have recently taken on a contract until 2024 with an American tour company which is worth around £30,000.”

The Lennox family (Kay is the daughter of Bobby and Anne Lennox and married to Dougie) is based at Shantron and Shemore farms which have spectacular views over the loch. Generations have farmed there since 1750.

They have invested £200,000 of their own money into the business and have also invested about £400,000-worth of time and family skills.

The Monitor Farm participation had been a key element in the family remaining focussed on what they were trying to achieve and had been 'a great thing to be part of.'

Drift, in East Lothian, was the other agritourism monitor farm in the last round of funding. It's run by Stuart and Jo McNicol and the various lockdowns had prompted a major re-think and re-organisation of the business which operates mainly as a cafe out of converted shipping containers overlooking the Firth of Forth towards Bass Rock.

They are also moving into the 'farm experience and tours' type of offering and again contact with the travel trade would be essential for maintaining that angle.

Their cafe, with its own bakery, had switched to a takeaway food option during lockdown with a converted trailer keeping the business alive during the stricter lockdowns. Jo reckoned that 70% of their income had come from this one trailer.

She added: "Taking part in the Monitor Farm programme had been a great journey for me personally." Jo and her husband Stuart had improved the cooking facilities at the Drift cabin and were now in a position to produce more food, as well as offer bespoke cooking classes to visitors.

Since the business started four years ago it has attracted some 400,000 visitors, a figure which had obviously been curtailed by the pandemic. "That's quite staggering for a business built around upcycled shipping containers!", she said.

* Scottish Agritourism Growth Tracker 2021 was undertaken in June, 2021. Findings were based on the responses of 179 farms, two-thirds of which are actively involved in agritourism, with the other third considering agritourism.