BUFFALO, N.D. - North Dakota farmers can grow their bottom line by nurturing more than crops.

That's the message from the North Dakota State University Extension Service, which has teamed up with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Service to offer a program called "Marketing Agritourism Online."

The program's goal is to help businesses improve their online marketing, or help them start using the Internet as a way to draw travelers to berry farms and other operations that offer visitors a hands-on rural experience.

"You think of Disneyland/Disney World as being the 'experience economy.' Well, we have that capacity, too," said Glenn Muske, rural and agribusiness enterprise development specialist for the NDSU Extension Service. "We have resources here that people want to experience."

"I was a farm boy," Muske said, "Yet, my two children don't have a clue what farming is about."

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He said the idea of getting out and having a nature-based experience interests people, "so let's take advantage of it."

Online marketing is important to Red Trail Vineyard near Buffalo, N.D., said Rod Hogen, whose family operates the business.

"The wine industry is a new attraction for people who travel through North Dakota," said Hogen, who has been surprised by the number of people who search out vineyards to experience.

"It's on their bucket list to go to a winery in every state, believe it or not," he said.

Red Trail Vineyard has a Facebook page and a website, and Hogen said the website in particular sees traffic pick up this time of year.

"They're looking for places to go to when they're planning an event: an office party, class reunion, family reunions," he said. He estimated about 40 percent of the winery's visitors come from out of state, while 60 percent are from somewhere in North Dakota.

"A lot of people are discovering what their home state has to offer," he said.

Muske stressed that an online presence is a must for any business hoping to bring travelers to their door.

"You need to be able to show people what to expect when they come to your business, what it might cost," he said.

While websites are a start, businesses today must also understand social media and its potential to link travelers with an agribusiness through things like video.

"Video is a huge thing now, because you can show what your business is. You can show your customers having a good time," Muske said.


Businesses interested in the "Marketing Agritourism Online" program can find more information or sign up for the program

at go.unl.edu/agritourism.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555