‘Haycations’ provide boost in revenue for ranches, farms in state
Fifty miles from the nearest telephone line and far beyond cell-phone coverage, Soldier Meadows Ranch north of Gerlach appeals to visitors grown weary of bright lights and big cities.
But as the snowpack begins its retreat up the Black Rock Mountain Range to the east of the ranch, owners Jim and Kathy Kudrna hold their breath as they wait to see what the summer tourism season will bring.
“We only have a couple of reservations for the summer months right at the moment,” says Kathy Kudrna in an e-mail delivered through a satellite link from the ranch. “As with last year, it looks like the trend for reservation-making is a lot more last-minute or at least much shorter notice is given to us before our guests’ arrival date.”
For a growing number of farms and ranches in Nevada and nationwide, visits by rural vacationers folks taking haycations, in other words are important part of their annual revenues.
A survey by Scottie Jones, a farmer in Alsea, Ore., who developed FarmStayUS.com as a centralized listing for farm-vacation listings, found that nearly half the responding farms and ranches reported that they generate more than $10,000 a year by hosting visitors.
About 16 percent, Jones says, reported that they generated revenues of $50,000 to $150,000 annually.
“Agri-tourism is increasingly important to small farmers competing with industrial agriculture,” she says.
Nevada’s ranchers may not be tapping the full potential of agri-tourism, researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno, suggested in a study of the sector a couple of years ago.
Nevada has a strong tourism infrastructure including skills in tourism marketing and the state also offers natural amenities that attract visitors, found the UNR team.
“These factors could provide a niche opportunity in agri-tourism for rural ranchers and farmers,” said the team led by Betsy Fadali, a member of the UNR faculty.
FarmStayUS.com provides listings for 721 farms and ranches in all 50 states yep, even a half dozen in Alaska and Jones says the site adds three or four farms and ranches a week.
Most of the participating ranches and farms in Nevada are in the northern reaches of the state. Locations include the isolation of the Kudrnas’ Soldier Meadows Ranch or the Cottonwood Ranch about 70 miles north of Wells, as well as relatively close-in locations such as Deer Run Ranch at the southern end of Washoe Valley between Carson City and Reno.
It’s not an easy way to make a side income, particularly because ranch and farm families need to get their own work done even while they host guests.
But the opportunity to watch working life on a ranch or a farm is a powerful draw to visitors.
And the FarmStayUS.com survey found the opportunity to teach guests about agricultural life is a strong motivator as well for the ranchers and farmers who host guests.
Some 53 percents of the respondents said the opportunity to educate city dwellers is one the reasons they choose to open their rural homes to visitors.
Hosting guests becomes trickier yet, Kathy Kudrna says, when visitors today provide one or two days notice. When the couple bought the property in the economic boom time of 2005, guests typically called weeks or even months in advance.
Getting ready for last-minute guests, she says, is a challenge when the ranch owners travel to Reno a three-hour trip each way for supplies only once every week or 10 days.
Helen Kolbe, who has hosted bed-and-breakfast guests at her family’s K High Five Ranch southwest of Minden, says she’s found greater success recently conducting private events such as weddings at the ranch.
In part, she says, the decision reflects the need to keep visitors out of the way of professionals who handle livestock and other ranch chores.
“No city slickers here,” she says.
But whether side revenues come from weddings or visitors, she says ranching in the Carson Valley remains a struggle.
“We are just trying to keep our family heritage alive and together for as long as we can,” Kolbe says. “My grandparents came to the Carson Valley in the 1870s, my father just turned 86, and hopefully my grandchildren will be able to enjoy the ranching lifestyle as well.”
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