At the end of South Dakota's just-completed legislative session, state lawmakers cleared the way for a merger of sorts between the state's two biggest industries, agriculture and tourism. The result could be very good news for travelers.
It's a bit complicated, but South Dakota has changed its liability laws to be in line with those of 39 other states, and the revision will help the development of agritourism.
The new law, which was signed on March 2, will make it easier and less risky for the state's ranches and farms to create programs and lodgings for visitors. The hope is that this will grow local economies and tourism.
"Some of the more mom-and-pop [farms] are wanting to diversify their 'ag' operations, and are using this [new law] as an opportunity to do that," says Jacey Ellsworth of South Dakota's Department of Tourism. "And then there are some of the larger row crop operations [farms for wheat, corn, sunflowers, and more] and ranches that are wanting to bring more their of kids or family back into their operations, and they’re seeing this agritourism piece as a way to bring more income to what they’re doing."
Blair Brothers Angus Ranch (pictured above) does not currently allow guests, but is hoping to do so in the near future
What could these operations consist of? Well, even before this bill was introduced, the state had an array of farm fun. There's the Farm Life Creamery, which takes visitors through its dairy bottling and cheesemaking plant before setting them loose on their store, mini golf course, and tire playground. There's the Yak Ridge Farmstead and Cabins, where guests can stay and learn about Himalayan yak cultivation, honey making, and flower farming. And there's Dry Creek Farm and Ranch, a regenerative agriculture operation that uses eco-friendly methods for raising cattle and crops, and offers mazes, self-pick patches, and educational tours.
South Dakota's tourism department, Travel South Dakota, will be working hard in the coming months to get the word out about the state's growing numbers of agritourism offerings. They plan to post new driving tours which will marry visits to some of the states top attractions (Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Historic Deadwood, and more) with fun and often educational farm stays, ranch programs, flower- and vegetable-picking opportunities.
A commercial sunflower field in South Dakota
"We want visitors to get off the beaten path, extend their stay, and get to know some of our gorgeous rural areas and small towns," says Kirk Hulstein of the South Dakota Department of Tourism. "We think this new initiative will make all that possible."