Supplemental income, working with people and eco-friendliness are the top reasons Arkansas entrepreneurs choose to start agritourism businesses, according to a study by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

The two-year study is the first of its kind in Arkansas. The researchers surveyed more than 300 operators identified by partners in the Arkansas Agritourism Initiative.

“The number of small and medium-scale farms is dwindling and incomes are stagnating,” said Stacey McCullough, instructor-community and economic development for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, and one of the study’s authors. “Agritourism is being used as a catalyst for additional income and triggering economic growth in rural areas.”

Agritourism encompasses a broad range of activities including wineries, U-pick farms, on-farm hunting, corn mazes and agriculture festivals such as the Purple Hull Pea festival in Emerson, June 24 through June 25; Altus Grape Fest, July 29 through July 30; and the Hope Watermelon Festival, Aug. 11 through Aug. 13.

The study found that 32 percent of agritourism entrepreneurs said they started their operation for the supplemental income. Among the other reasons for engaging in agritourism: 26 percent said they enjoyed working with people; 20 percent said they liked the eco-friendly nature of the activities and 17 percent said they enjoyed teaching visitors about farm heritage.

The study found that direct income generated in the farm sector as a result of agritourism in 2008, the latest figures available, was more than $2 million.

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.

The study authors are McCullough, Daniel Rainey, associate professor-agricultural economists and agribusiness; Jefferson Miller, associate professor, agricultural and extension education; all of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture; and Biswa Das, now employed as a research assistant professor, agricultural economics at Kansas State.

Meanwhile, farmers, rural community leaders and entrepreneurs interested in starting or growing agritourism business ventures are invited to attend the Arkansas Agritourism Conference Aug. 18 through Aug. 19 at the Holiday Inn Airport Conference Center in Little Rock.

The conference is an excellent opportunity to network and share ideas for success, McCullough said. Industry experts will host sessions on topics such as media relations, financing, insurance, customer service, social media, and more, she said.  In addition, operators can compete for the title of Best Website or Best Facebook Page and receive feedback on their online marketing efforts.

Registration is $115 for the full two-day conference or $75 for one day.  For registration and other information, visit http://www.regonline.com/arkansasagritourismconference, contact your county Extension office or e-mail asignorelli@uaex.edu. Registration will be limited.

This agritourism conference is sponsored by the Arkansas Agritourism Initiative, a partnership among the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, University of Arkansas Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, National Agricultural Law Center, Arkansas Agriculture Department and Arkansas Farm Bureau.

For more information about agritourism or community development visit www.uaex.edu, http://www.facebook.com/arkagritourism, or contact your county Extension agent.