The University of California wants to know the economic impact that agritourism has on agricultural operations. To gauge that, the university's Cooperative Extension and Small Farm Program plan to mail nearly 2,000 questionnaires to agritourism operators this month.

The mailing is believed to be the first statewide economic survey of California agricultural operators.

Agritourism includes any income-generating activity conducted on a working farm or ranch for the enjoyment and education of visitors.

Survey results will help measure the direct impacts of agritourism ventures on local economies.

"Upon completion, we'll have a more detailed economic picture of how agritourism affects individual farms and our communities," says Shermain Hardesty, director of the UC Small Farm Program and Cooperative Extension economist at UC Davis. "The survey will measure revenue generation, job creation and capital investments made by agritourism businesses."

The survey will also help researchers identify major challenges faced by agritourism business owners, so that future University of California work can better address those needs, according to a news release.

"A frequent question at our agritourism workshops is 'How much money can we make doing this?'" says Holly George, county director for UC Cooperative Extension in Sierra and Plumas counties and co-author of the 2005 handbook Agritourism and Nature Tourism in California. "If a large enough percentage of people respond to this survey, we'll be able to more accurately answer that question for farmers throughout California. And we'll have more feedback on what issues and problems exist for people working within agritourism—which will help us plan better future workshops."

Previous statewide surveys of agritourism impacts in New York, Hawaii and New Jersey have confirmed the positive significance of agricultural and nature tourism to local economies.

But this survey is believed to be the first to account for the impacts in California's economy.

Individual survey responses will be kept strictly confidential. Agritourism operators who do not receive a survey but would like to participate—or who received the questionnaire, but are concerned about privacy—should e-mail for further directions.