A new study shows that northern Virginia generates the most agri-tourism revenue of any region in the state, and that Loudoun County farm businesses make up 51 percent of venues researched for the report.
The study, conducted by Virginia Tech in consultation with the Virginia Tourism Corporation and Virginia Cooperative Extension, shows that northern Virginia contributed more than $552 million to Virginia’s $2.2 billion agri-tourism industry in 2015. That places it first among the 10 regions studied.
Loudoun’s booming agri-tourism economy contributed to these findings. The county has almost 1,400 farms, of which 182 participated in the study, and about 13 percent of them are involved in the agri-tourism sector.
“In addition to our craft beverage producers, businesses like orchards, Christmas tree farms, livestock farms and equestrian venues attract customers to Loudoun from around the D.C. metro region and beyond,” Loudoun Economic Development Executive Director Buddy Rizer said in a release.
The economic impact of visitors to Virginia agri-tourism venues is $1.5 billion annually, according to the report. About 83 percent of the money spent during their visits goes towards off-farm expenses like hotels, restaurants and gas. Two-thirds of these visitors are considered agri-tourists because they travel from more than 50 miles away to visit agri-tourism venues.
“We’ve had families come from as far away as New York and Pennsylvania for Loudoun farm tours,” Loudoun Agricultural Business Development Officer Kellie Hinkle said in a release.
Hinkle said agri-tourism has flourished because of how Economic Development has promoted the industry with events such as the Loudoun Fall and Spring Farm Tour, which is coming up on May 20-21 and features 50 venues.
“It started out as an opportunity to inform the public,” Hinkle said. “Because of the high cost of land and operating costs, farmers had to diversify. They’ve cut out the middle man and done their own marketing. Some do farmer’s markets but then they started finding ways to bring people to their farms.”
Hinkle also said Loudoun is in a geographically advantage since it is close to Washington D.C. and other metropolitan areas that draw people to venues like vineyards.
“This study underscores the value of Loudoun’s thriving agricultural economy, and the impact it has on jobs, the tax revenue collected by the county and the retail and hospitality industries,” Rizer said in a release.
Among the 50 venues in this year’s county Spring Farm Tour are nine new farms: Grange and Grub in Purcellville, Long Stone Farm, in Lovettsville, Squire Oaks Farm in Lovettsville, Barnhouse Brewery in Leesburg, Jack’s Run Brewing Company in Purcellville, Old 690 Brewing Company in Purcellville, Harpers Ferry Family Farm in Purcellville, Historic Old Stone School in Hillsboro and Southern States- Loudoun County Co-Op in Purcellville.