Agritourism has been a lifeline for many farmers in the NSW Mid-Western region after the devastating effects of live cattle bans, drought and bushfires.
The NSW Government has proposed amendments to the NSW planning system to cut through red tape and make it easier for farmers to open their gates to visitors.
Among the proposed changes are amendments that would allow farmstay accommodation to include camping, and farms to host weddings.
Mudgee Tourism CEO Cara George said any changes that would enable farmers to more easily do business with visitors would be well received.
"For rural destinations such as the Mudgee Region, agritourism is an important part of the experience offering. Enabling agritourism to thrive will help secure livelihoods now and into the future," she said.
Ingrid Roth has felt the benefits of agritourism as she has grown her business, Roth Orchard, to become a tourist drawcard for the Mudgee region.
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The Roth Orchard produces cherries for wholesale domestic and export markets, but also allows visitors to pick cherries straight from the trees themselves.
"Cherries are a highly volatile crop, and one year the cherries weren't going to be viable to pick. Rather than let it go to waste we decided to open the orchard for 'pick your own'," Ms Roth said.
Over the past five years, agritourism has become an integral part of the Roth Orchard business, where the cost of picking is high and payment isn't received immediately, according to Ms Roth.
"It helps to have people paying upfront when they pick, that's fairly critical to our business's viability, and it also makes it a lot more fun," she said.
"Last year was probably the busiest with up to 800 people visiting in a day. It's great for us to have that great connection with consumers, and we've got people who have come repeatedly year after year."
Navigate Planning principal Mark Hitchenson is concerned the Government proposals have ignored rural landowners.
"The changes proposed by the NSW Government are fantastic for rural producers, particularly by providing for a range of tourist accommodation, farm gate activities and farm events to be undertaken without Council approval.
"However, there is nothing for rural landholders who do not undertake any farming activity," he said.
"Tourism in rural areas is not just undertaken on farms."
Anton van den Berg and Amanda Buckley learnt this the hard way, after they moved to Mudgee to expand their homebrew supplies business, Small Batch Brew.
"The dream is to grow hops, establish a brewery and have some tourist accommodation. A bit of a 'brew, play, stay' experience but on a premium small-scale."
The couple obtained consent from Mid-Western Regional Council to grow hops and establish a small brewery on their rural property in Budgee Budgee, 10 kilometres outside of Mudgee.
However, under the Local Environment Plan (LEP), cellar door premises are only permitted for properties with vineyards, but not for producers of other beverages, such as beer or cider.
"If we had a winery, we would be able to do almost everything without council approval. We've worked collaboratively with Council, but we're restricted by the zoning," Mr van den Berg said.
"We want to realise the same benefits that wineries have with cellar doors, it's almost discriminatory, because we're a brewery as opposed to a winery."
If you have questions about the proposals, you can email email@example.com
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