Ag plus tourism produces profit

With agriculture ranked as South Dakota’s No. 1 industry and tourism being the second largest economic generator in the state, it makes sense that a combination of the two — agritourism — could offer a handsome profit potential.

“Agritourism is here,” says David Hauck, Martin, S.D., who has built a successful business — Lazy H Hunting — hosting pheasant hunters on his cropland.

Hauck, who has been a lifelong pheasant hunter, hosted his first group of Colorado hunters 13 years ago. When they left, they handed him some money. “There was $400, and a lightbulb went on,” says Hauck, about his foray into the agritourism business. Today, he hosts hunters most weekends during the pheasant hunting season.

Key Points

Dakota farms and ranches can offer a lot in agritourism.

Attend introductory class to learn how to start a venture.

Key is to make rural experience fun for customers.


He adds, “People in the Midwest don’t realize the added value tourism has for their land. A lot of people are scared of starting an agritourism business.”

Taking a leap

To take away some of that fear, the South Dakota Stockgrowers hosted an Agritourism Business Course last winter, with the theme “Agritourism: Your next cash crop?” Thirty individuals from across western South Dakota graduated from the class which met one afternoon a week for five weeks.

Twelve of the participants announced new or expanding businesses at the end of the course — ranging from trail rides and corporate retreats to chuckwagon dinners, hunting excursions and working ranch vacations.

Vicki Walters of Keldron, S.D., was among them. Walters and her husband, Scott, have a commercial cattle operation, but she wanted to find a way to bring in supplemental income.

She decided to offer catered chuckwagon meals because of her passion for Dutch oven cooking, which has been her hobby for more than 15 years. The couple had purchased and restored a historic chuckwagon, but weren’t quite sure how to launch the business, so they participated in the class.

The agritourism course covered everything from insurance and marketing to how to price services. “The class really helped us take off. We had more business this summer than we would have anticipated,” Walters says of her business, Mill Iron Chuckwagon Suppers. She catered breakfast, lunch and supper events for 100 to 200 people at brandings and wagon trains in the region, featuring authentic cowboy meals like Swiss steak, chuckwagon potatoes, cowboy biscuits, cowboy beans and peach cobbler.

Learning from experience

From her experiences, Walters learned that rather than have people come to the ranch [which is remote], she has to take the chuckwagon to the people, but she notes that she could have booked three to four additional functions at each event she catered.

Walters admits that the catering business is a lot of work not only in preparing the food, but also in having the staff to help with the serving line. That said, Walters says the supplemental income has been nice, and she is hoping to continue with the business next summer and fall.

“There’s the possibility of traveling to do reunions and anniversaries. People definitely like the chuckwagon as part of the atmosphere,” she says.Walters advises others to learn more about agritourism. She says, “Participate in one of these classes and learn the basics about marketing and insurance, so you’re not afraid to take that step.”

Regarding pricing, she says to know your costs and charge adequately, because once you’ve set your price, it’s difficult to increase it.Hauck adds, “I’m always afraid I’m charging too much, but if you provide quality, people are willing to pay.”

He credits the agritourism class with giving him confidence in much of what he was already doing, as well as giving him new marketing ideas. As examples, he has retooled his website to enhance search engine optimization, and he is hosting a visit by members of the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce to help get the word out about his business.

He reminds those who are interested in starting an agritourism venture that it does require people skills. “You have to like being around people; think about how you would like to be treated.”With that he says, “Bite the bullet and do it. Agritourism is not going to be an overnight success, but if you work at it, it can be a success.”

Gordon writes from Whitewood, S.D.

Make it fun

Jan Jantzen of Emporia, Kan., facilitated the five week Agritourism Business Course sponsored by the South Dakota Stockgrowers. Jantzen, who is director of Rural Tourism Development for Flint Hills Resource Conservation and Develop-ment, is able to teach the class from experience. He has offered guided horseback rides and prairie and range burning tours on his Flint Hills property for more than a decade.

“People are longing to understand what goes on in rural America. They view our rural life as amazing,” he says.As long as you keep the agritourism experience authentic, informative and participatory, “demand is incredible,” he says.

Look at all that you have to offer through the eyes of a potential guest, he suggests. The stars, coyotes howling, the scenic views, the opportunity to experience the cowboy culture … “people find those things spell binding.”

Whatever you do, make it enjoyable, he adds. “Agritourism is the entertainment business. You’ve got to make it fun,” he says.


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TOURISM DRAW: Cowboy culture, an experience most ranches can offer, is on display at the annual Custer State Park bison roundup.

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SCENIC SENSATION: The Dakotas’ wide-open spaces are one of the things some people want to experience for themselves. Photos: SD Department of Tourism.

This article published in the January, 2011 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.