The LEADER programme is now offering grants of up to €200,000 to farmers who are looking to diversify into agri-tourism. This grant scheme is aimed at supporting private enterprises and community groups that will improve the quality of economic activity in rural areas. Farmers are currently exploring various diversification options, including energy crops, forestry, renewables, and rural tourism. According to Barry Caslin, a Teagasc Energy and Rural Development specialist, tourists are now seeking different holiday experiences and are after a more authentic and natural experience compared to city breaks and hotels.
Caslin added that diversifying into tourism isn’t sector-specific, but each farm looking to diversify needs to look into the rural advantage their own area has. He also noted that people are more interested in short stays of up to three nights and seeing different counties, compared to week-long holidays in the same place. However, the counties proving most successful based on their geography are counties set on the Wild Atlantic Way. The counties of Cork, Donegal, and Clare are seeing a lot of tourism development, Caslin said. The returns from the business in general depend on what county the business is in. Many factors play into this, including the general rate of rent. For example, log cabins depending on the area can range from €400-1000/week depending on location.
Caslin emphasised that every county has something to offer and it all depends on what type of tourism is suited to the local area. He advised that the key considerations are the skills and support in the area and farmers should be thinking about that before they start. Glen Keen farm, located on the Wild Atlantic Way, is one of the largest farms to diversify into agri-tourism. The 1,400ac sheep farm with a commonage footprint that extends to over 5,500ac mixes education, heritage, and environmental tourism. Glen Keen farm received a LEADER grant of €150,000 at a rate of 75% for the construction of a visitor centre, which has a capacity of 250 guests, and has a tearoom, craft shop, and a photograph exhibition.
The diversifying options proving most popular are glamping, camping, self-catering, and log cabins. All that can be done at a relatively low cost, with a potentially rewarding return, the Teagasc specialist said. With the shortage of accommodation in Ireland, farmers have seen the opportunity to develop housing options for people, whether that be converting old outbuildings into self-catering cottages or building shepherds huts. According to Caslin, women are leading the way through rural tourism. He said that they seem to “thrive on the challenge” of rural tourism and they have “brought in new skills and contacts that have proved very helpful across the country”.
On Monday (May 22), Teagasc Rural Development Department, together with the Irish Self Catering Federation of Ireland (ISCF), is hosting an agri-tourism conference. Caslin said that the aim of the event is to hear from farmers who have already diversified, the challenges they had to face along the way in making their project a success, and if they’d do anything differently. The conference also aims to provide a platform for farmers to learn from each other and to share their experiences in diversifying into agri-tourism.
In conclusion, the LEADER programme is offering a great opportunity for farmers to diversify into agri-tourism. With the shortage of accommodation in Ireland, this could be a potentially rewarding return for farmers. The diversifying options are endless, and farmers should carefully consider the skills and support in their area before starting. The agri-tourism conference hosted by Teagasc Rural Development Department and the Irish Self Catering Federation of Ireland (ISCF) on May 22 is a great opportunity for farmers to learn from each other and to share their experiences in diversifying into agri-tourism.