9 October 2022

'Farming' tourists may be the key to future-proofing the regions as agritourism booms

| Chris Roe
Start the conversation

Hillview Farmstay is both a working farm and a booming agritourism venture. Photo: Tourism NSW.

With the world opening back up and tourists looking to the regions for a holiday with a difference, the boom in agritourism is giving farmers the opportunity to future-proof their operations.

Ruth Singson and her husband Pierre Fakhry have run the popular Hillview Farmstay between Wagga and Gundagai since 2017 and say the tourism business is growing.

“Over the five years we’ve been here, there has been around a threefold increase, so at least a 300 per cent increase in income,” explains Ruth.

“This is still a working farm and we are commercially selling beef and sheep and goats.

“But in terms of finances, the farmstay is generating much more money than the farm itself and it’s the one paying the bills.”

Demand for agritourism in Australia is expected to reach $18.6 billion by 2030 and is growing at a rate of about 5 per cent a year.

READ ALSO What can we do in the Riverina to work towards ‘zero extinction’?

Farmstays, cafes, cellar doors, retreats, roadside stalls, fruit picking and rustic wedding venues are becoming increasingly popular.

Tania Sibrey operates Food I Am on the outskirts of Wagga, running cooking classes, hosting events and making the most of Riverina produce.

“Post COVID, people are looking for somewhere new to go within Australia and we’ve seen new tourism coming through Food I Am,” Tania explains.

“Every weekend when we hold our classes we get visitors that are travelling through town, and they could be within a four-hour radius or from Canberra or Orange or Griffith.

“But what we’ve noticed in the last nine or 10 months is people from interstate travelling around the area and looking for great experiences.”

Agritourism food tasting

Wagga’s Food I Am caters to ”foodies” in the growing agritourism space. Photo: Supplied.

This week, the NSW Government announced a new policy aimed at making it easier for rural families to diversify and take advantage of the agribusiness boom.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW Paul Toole says the plan is to streamline the process and reduce red tape.

“We have introduced clear definitions and new planning pathways to allow agritourism activities to happen with either faster or no planning approval if they meet requirements set out in the policy,” Mr Toole says.

Minister for Tourism Ben Franklin says there’s a growing market just waiting to be tapped.

“It’s all about using the land in innovative ways, complementing existing businesses and giving people more reasons to visit regional areas,” he says.

“The pandemic has seen NSW residents spend more time exploring our amazing state, and these activities will attract tourists and put rural communities on the map as drawcard destinations.”

READ ALSO Potholes and shoddy roads spark calls for more action

Rachel Whiting from Regional Development Australia is yet to see the details of the policy that will be introduced in December, but says agritourism is an increasingly important part of the regional economy.

She says that while there may be a lag in the services needed, there is plenty of opportunity.

“I feel we can’t wait for one thing to be working really well and smoothly before we can start the next,” she explains.

”We have to edge everything up as much as we can at the same time because there’s a need for greater diversity and offering an income for farmers and our need for more tourism offerings and accommodation.

“All of those things are as important at once.”

Rachel adds that COVID-19 travel restrictions have precipitated an increase in domestic tourism and in ”tree changers” looking for new opportunities out of the cities.

“You’ve got people who are realising it’s easier to live regionally and also a greater demand for accommodation,” she says.

“I think at the moment the Riverina is in a prime position and it will continue like that for some years.”

Tania Sibrey agrees and says the region is seeing real growth in paddock-to-plate, local food experiences and hospitality.

“There’s room for plenty more people to come into our area and we’re a great area to come to if you’re from the metro areas,” she says.

“It’s an area that’s really open to great food and wine experiences, and the more businesses that open that are offering those quality experiences, the better for everyone.”

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Riverina news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riverina stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.