If you are interested in and willing to host a farm tour or workshop for educational purposes, THANK YOU! With only about 1% of the US population producing food (USDA 2012), the general public and beginning farmers have limited opportunities to learn about farm management practices firsthand. Educating the public about best agricultural practices helps strengthen connections between farmers and consumers, dispel misinformation, and cultivate the next generation of farmers (Figure 1). Furthermore, a farm tour can be an excellent marketing tool by facilitating exposure to potential customers. Farm tours are also popular with “backyard” producer groups and clubs that enjoy traveling to each other’s farms to share and learn from each other.
Consumers are increasingly interested in where their food comes from, how it is produced, and how they can grow their own. “Buy local” campaigns are commonplace, as are grassroots projects that encourage consumers to support local farmers. The number of small farms is increasing, perhaps in no small part due to such campaigns and the interest they create in farming. Indeed, the 2012 US Census of Agriculture showed increased farm numbers from 2002 to 2012 in only three categories of farm size: 1 to 9 acres, 10 to 49 acres, and >2,000 acres. These new small-scale farmers need education and guidance on a myriad of topics to operate a successful farm. Farm tours are an excellent way for them to gain such information and connect with mentors.
Why Care about Biosecurity?
The reasons to reduce disease risk may not be obvious to those completely unfamiliar with agricultural production. Much is at stake. Education about the need for disease prevention should help moderate participants’ feelings of inconvenience regarding farm biosecurity requirements.
Animal disease outbreaks have varying degrees of ripple effects on animal welfare and well-being, farm profitability, workload, product quantity and quality, ability to transport and/or sell animals, veterinary and medication costs, and human health. An economic analysis of a Scottish herd of 100 cow-calf beef pairs calculated the effect of a Bovine Viral Diarrhea outbreak to be $66.07 in 2003, $86.66 in 2016 per cow per year thereafter (Gunn et al. 2004). Vaillancourt’s (2000) paper summarized the work of others who documented the cost of poultry disease epidemics; these costs ranged from $0.59 to $19 per bird. Cho et al. (2010) assessed the Net Present Value (NPV) of dairy cattle farms with moderate and high rates of Johne’s Disease infections as 45% and 1.3%, respectively, of the NPV of a farm without this insidious disease. Incursions of new diseases onto formerly negative premises can result in the loss of added value of breeding animals that were previously disease-negative, as well.
Biosecurity risk ranges from low to moderate to high. For farm tours, factors that increase risk include the number of different premises visited, degree of visitor contact with animals and/or manure, and the presence of contagious diseases in the area (Grooms 2003). Ultimately, the complexity of an event’s biosecurity plan will depend on the specific pathogen(s) of concern and the desired degree of risk containment (Wells 2000).