LITTLE ROCK – In the midst of a summer reaching record temperatures and with much of the state having experienced exceptional drought, Arkansas agriculture tourism, or agritourism, is pushing on despite challenges.
Agritourism is a $4.1 billion industry engaging more than 250 Arkansas farms. According to Stacey McCullough, a community and economic development instructor for the University of Arkansas System Division, it’s especially important for the small farmers.
“Agritourism has helped the small and middle size farms increase their income and allows them to stay in business,” she said.
Farms of all sizes are facing a lot of uncertainty this season as rain shortages and high heat damaged crops that contribute to fall agritourism. At this point in the season, many farms don’t know whether or not they will be able to open for business this fall. Despite that uncertainty, Schaefers’ Corn Maze in Mayflower is set to open for its eighth year this September. James Schaefers said the drought has been rough on the corn growing for the maze, but they have been able to manage it through irrigation.
“The corn looks good,” Schaefers said. “It did have a few spots in it where we weren’t able to get water on it and it did burn up.”
Like many farmers, Schaefers has seen costs go up due to the drought. When the price of diesel fuel rises, the cost of irrigating a farm goes up with it.
Randy Motley of Motley’s Christmas Tree Farm and Pumpkin Patch says it’s a necessary part of agritourism, which he says has a lot more to do with looks and retail than the rest of the farming industry. In the 30 years since he started the tree farm, 10 of those years he has used drip irrigation.
“We just could not take a chance relying on the rain,” he said. “It’s just a gamble. If [farmers] aren’t irrigating now, they will definitely consider it next year.”
As the heat finally seems to take a break, another concern is whether or not it will return in full force. McCullough noted that if it the temperatures are high, customers may not show up. This is just another stress the farmers can add to one of the driest and hottest seasons on record.
“I think it’s taken an emotional toll on a lot of operators.” McCullough said. “The uncertainty of if they’re going to make it and if the customers will come. I think that’s probably more stressful than anything.”