When we think of agricultural diversification here in Canada, we usually imagine new crops or livestock, maybe value-added, or maybe entry-level agritourism. How often, though, would you think of aiming for the high end of a luxury market?
Below, meet three farms that have successfully diversified their revenue streams by targeting luxury offerings in some of the world’s most exclusive markets.
Did you say “limes?”
Jade King, a 2022 Nuffielder from Australia, operates Green Valley Farms located on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. The farm raises Brangus beef cattle and Wiltipoll sheep, and they are also producers of seasonal fruits and vegetables, specializing in – wait for it – limes.
Finger Files? If you’ve never heard of it before, you’re not alone. Limes are native to Australia, specifically the rainforests in the northeast corner of the country.
Limes are about the size and shape of a finger and have a caviar-like citrus flesh inside that pops in your mouth when you eat it.
Green Valley specializes in Champagne Red – a native variety, of which King has 350 producing trees and about 500 recent plantings. “Not only is Champagne Red native to the region,” says King, “it’s also highly sought after by chefs, and they keep longer, making them ideal for export as well.”
That’s the advantage. The downside – it takes determination to pick them because without gloves you will be sliced by the thorny bushes they bloom on.
In 2020, King’s farm got some very big recognition when national television network Network Ten called. They were looking for five kilos of limes to use on MasterChef Australia. This proved a high point for the show and the start of a lime renaissance, opening the door for limes to be marketed to high-end chefs across Australia.
The fruit was previously popular with native tribes who used it for both cooking and medicinal purposes. Importantly, this also ties into King’s personal brand and experience as an agronomist with an environmentally conscious approach to healthy agriculture. (She also teaches agricultural science at her local school, and her students learn about farming by using portions of land for agronomic plots.)
And, in the end, the marketing was simple. So far, King hasn’t had to look for lime customers. Through advertising, they seek it, and they bring their wallets. Prices range from $200 to $300 per kilogram.
“We started lime production in 2014,” says King. “We sell locally, nationally and internationally to restaurants and high-end food markets. We plan to continue planting more.
But it also knows that it must develop both its agronomic skills and its commercial strategy, which are always closely linked. Over the next two years, King will use his 2022 Nuffield Fellowship to meet producers in Italy, Spain, Japan and the United States. According to King, “Understanding agronomy will help other Australian growers set a quality standard for international marketing.”
A break on the farm side
It may still be winter in Canada, but imagine vacationing on a farm near Dundee, Scotland. The, The Hideway Experience Run by Nuffielder Caroline Millar, her husband Ross and two teenagers, is anything but an ordinary farm.
It’s more of a five-star hotel, combining the seclusion of a self-catering lodge, the gastronomic delights of a farmer’s market, and the services of a personal concierge.
Five of these luxurious hideaways are located on the family’s 650ha cattle and sheep farm, and welcoming guests is in Millar’s DNA.
“I was brought up in agritourism on the family farm in Perthshire,” says Millar. “My parents and grandparents ran bed and breakfasts on farms near Caputh in Perthshire.”
Rated 5/5 on Trip Advisor, The Hideaway Experience is described as “Scotland’s exclusive 5-star ‘couples-only’ accommodation.” No children, no groups, no stag parties, just 5 star luxury lodges located at the foot of the Sidlaw Hills in Angus, just north of Dundee.
Designed for complete privacy, rest, relaxation and enjoyment, the lodges have the layout and facilities of a luxury hotel suite. Guests can enjoy a dedicated spa room, outdoor hot tub, sauna, modern kitchen with a range of high-end gadgets and appliances, double-sided fire and a cocktail bar. The huts also feature living roofs and are powered by green energy.
Says Millar, “We opened The Hideaway Experience in 2005 on our family farm by converting a bothy (a former farm cabin) into a couple’s retreat.
“Since then, we have invested in three refuges and are about to build our fifth property. We employ six part-time and full-time staff and welcome 2,000 premium visitors to Dundee and Angus each year. We also offer farm tours to visitors directly and through the travel industry and intend to expand this area of our business.
All this is not cheap. Guest rates per night range between £360 and £475 with a minimum booking of two nights, but hideouts are often booked months in advance.
Millar credits his 2012 Nuffield Fellowship for opening his eyes to the agritourism industry internationally and the extent of agritourism in other countries.
“Although I have traveled to 10 countries and been away from home 16 weeks a year, Italy and Austria remain, for me, two countries with significant scale in this sector”, says- she. With a focus on food and beverages and a focus on an intense agricultural offering with a real farmer at the heart of the guest experience, the Italian agritourism market has reached C$2.5 billion. “That’s what’s possible,” says Millar.
As well as shelters, Millar is involved with Go Rural Scotland, the Scottish Tourism Alliance and the National Farmers’ Union. She is also an international agritourism consultant and speaker and has worked here in Canada for the Culinary Tourism Alliance and the City of Essex in Ontario.
Make a Kangaroo Island Business
The Nuffield Fellowship is about gathering knowledge, and often that comes from fellow researchers. Carly Bussenschutt, from Kangaroo Island in South Australia, was a 2012 fellow with Caroline Millar of The Hideaway Experience.
Fast forward a few years, and Millar’s hideouts can be found as Bussenschutt’s “stowaways” on his farm halfway around the world from Scotland.
Islands offer unique experiences, and Kangaroo Island, slightly smaller than Prince Edward Island, is no exception. It is a popular tourist destination known for its wild landscapes, fresh foods, agriculture and native parks.
Originally from the island, Bussenschutt, her husband Adam and their children manage 2,500 merino sheep, as well as two luxury “stowaways”.
“When I landed at Millar’s Hideaway Experience in Scotland on my travels to Nuffield, I knew it was exactly the kind of thing I would love to create on our own farm,” she says.
“Creating a romantic, luxury couple’s getaway is central to our business model, and we’ve worked hard to create a truly unique space, in a truly cool location on a one-of-a-kind island.”
“The unexpected benefit of our new venture is that as farmers we have learned the true pleasure of making people happy not only by producing food and fiber, but by providing a unique experience that you will not find really nowhere else.”
The Bussenschutts currently manage two stowaways –The Nest and Sleepy Hollow – and like Millar’s Refuges, they are rated five stars on Trip Advisor.
“I had an amazing time on my travels to Nuffield and gained so much knowledge that has benefited my personal development and that of my family business beyond belief,” she says.
So what does a farm stay have to offer the consumer to qualify for premium lodging fees? Millar conducted a survey of 200 of his own guests. Some of the results may surprise:
- The chance to escape the crowds, traffic, noise, to be alone and to have space and fresh air.
- Starry skies, beautiful views, natural surroundings, wildlife.
- Opportunity to wear wetsuit, experience mud.
- Somewhere to help you feel better mentally.
- The chance to meet a farmer for the first time, see crops grow, see animals up close and learn where the food comes from.
- An authentic experience — not a standardized enterprise experience.
- Access to the best produce, eg locally grown/produced eggs, steaks, jam.
- Local know-how on the best places to eat, walk, make vacations special.
- A farm visit, interested in geography, seasons, history, economics of agriculture.
Delivering a luxury agricultural product requires the utmost attention to detail. High-end consumers expect more, but farmers who can provide this supplement can benefit greatly.
Your field of dreams
Considerations for those looking to add an agritourism component to their farm
In Caroline Millar’s Nuffield Report, “Selling the Farm Experience,” she makes the following recommendations:
1. There is market demand for agritourism from the public, who are willing to pay for the chance to experience interaction with a real, living farmer.
2. The public is willing to pay for the chance to learn about how food is produced, the natural environment and the life of a farmer.
3. Unlike Italy, in the UK this tourism product has not been significantly developed.
4. The key person who succeeds in a tourism diversification was often not the farmer but a member of his family.
5. This person had special attributes, most notably being a “sociable person”.
6. If you don’t like people, stick to the sheep.
7. In terms of impact on the farming family, successful agricultural diversifications:
• used all forms of physical and human capital within the family to maximize the return on investment of their agricultural enterprise.
• enabled several generations of a family business to live and work from the same fixed property.
• Facilitated management succession in the farm business.
• generated increased economic impact in their rural economies.
• collaborated with other companies in a strategic way.
8. Farm tourism and recreation offer farmers an important opportunity to connect with consumers, stimulate demand for local products for local and international markets, and generate vital income.