Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 6, Issue 1 - May, 2013


Development and Branding of Educational Programs to Meet the Needs of Small Acreage Owners in South Dakota

Hubert, M., Small Acreage Field Specialist, SDSU Extension at South Dakota State University
Bott, R.C., Equine Extension Specialist, Asst. Professor, SDSU Extension at South Dakota State University
Gates, R.N., Rangeland Extension Specialist, Professor, SDSU Extension at South Dakota State University
Nester, P.L., Kidder County Extension Agent, North Dakota State University Extension


Because South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension observed a steady increase in 1-49 acre parcels in the state, small acreage-focused programming was initiated in 2009. Efforts around the newly directed programming were intended to educate the landowner about natural resource management and available technical resources. Various methods of communication were used in order to effectively reach and gain insight into this tech-savvy audience which tends to have limited agricultural background.  Subsequent Extension programming has continued to build on earlier efforts by instituting brand-development for easier identification of technical resources for new and existing small acreage audiences.


Introduction: A Growing Need

In South Dakota, a “small acreage” homestead is typically characterized by a landholder as a property consisting of 1-49 acres.  Small acreage homesteads are becoming extremely popular, providing people with an opportunity to live a rural lifestyle and participate in agriculture on a limited basis, yet still have reasonable access (typically <60 miles) to urban amenities, including medical care, shopping, and jobs. Since 2002, there has been a nationwide increase (14.8%) in the number of small acreages that encompass 1-49 acres (NASS, 2007). In fact, small acreage owners have been identified as the fastest growing clientele of conservation districts throughout the U.S. (NACD, 2009).  Many of the acreage owners in South Dakota keep horses on their properties.  Furthermore, the ten South Dakota counties with the highest horse populations experienced a 57% increase in the number of small acreages and a 6% increase in horse numbers between 2002 and 2007 (NASS, 2002 and 2007). 

Many small acreage owners are new to rural living and have little knowledge of natural resources management (Ehmke and Mount, 2007).  Additionally, Westenbroek et. al (2009) found that most small acreage owners have access to the Internet, indicating a value for online educational resources. These new landowners may be unaware of the impacts that their management can have on land, water, vegetation, and air resources both inside and out of their property boundaries. The use of small acreages is often intense, leading to erosion, degradation of water and air quality, spread of invasive species, and loss of wildlife habitat both on the small acreages as well as throughout the communities in which they reside (NACD, 2009).  Natural resource programming targeting these smaller properties has been very limited in South Dakota until recently, when the cumulative effects of overgrazing have become obvious to Extension personnel.  

Detecting the increasing trend of small acreage ownership in the Black Hills region of western South Dakota, a group of SDSU Extension colleagues attended the 2008 USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) - funded workshop  “Living on the Land: Stewardship for Small Acreages” with teaching curriculum taught by Donaldson et al. (2008).  This curriculum provided the newly-formed SDSU “Small Acreage Team” with teaching tools and inspiration to begin a small acreage program in South Dakota.  Programming designed to address the unique issues and needs of small acreages had also been successfully initiated in other regions of the United States (Etter, 2007).

Three concurrent program objectives were developed in order to maximize the impact of landowner educational efforts.  Objectives include: 1) educate landowners about natural resource management, with an emphasis placed on horse properties, as this topic is seen by the Small Acreage Team as an immediate need; 2) gain insight about the driving factors and other training needs of SD small acreage owners through frequent surveys and online interaction; and 3) marketing and brand-development to help acreage owners in South Dakota identify SDSU Extension as a technical resource. 



Program Objective 1.  Natural Resource Management and Horse Care Education

Activities: Target areas for initial programming efforts were communities in the Black Hills region of South Dakota due to a visibly increasing number of small acreages (primarily horses properties) over the past one to two decades. These workshops were focused on equine care and education with respect to natural resources, thus workshops were advertised under the program title “Healthy Lands, Healthy Horses: Skills to Small Acreage Success“.  Topics at workshops and on-site demonstrations included animal care and resource stewardship, particularly stocking rates and weed control.  These initial half-day workshops were held in 2009-2010 at the Black Hills communities of Sturgis, Custer, Pine Ridge, and Rapid City.  SDSU Extension specialists with expertise in range management and equine care led the instruction.  

Additionally, individual consultations and/or site visits with small acreage owners were offered and provided  by SDSU Extension colleagues. To meet the variety of needs of small acreage owners, the small acreage team expanded to include partnerships with other Extension personnel with strengths in sheep, horticulture, entomology, dairy, and agricultural systems management.  Additional partnerships were created with NRCS, the Belle Fourche River Watershed Partnership, and other representatives of government, allied industries, real estate agencies, and even local successful acreage owners. 


Program Objective 2.  Gaining Insight into South Dakota Small Acreage Owners: Canvassing Clientele

Activities: Participants at these initial workshops were surveyed using two methods: 1) participants answered survey questions throughout the program using an electronic audience response system (Turning Technologies, LLC, 2009).  Participants were given a remote response device to anonymously answer multiple choice questions concerning their knowledge level, how they heard about the program, preferences for program times and locations, and potential programming topics of interest; 2) Participants were also given a traditional hard copy survey to fill out at the end of the program to allow for additional comments.  Participants were aware that their responses would be used to more precisely address their needs to provide topical information for future programs.


Program Objective 3.  Marketing and Brand Development: Implementing a Multi-media Approach to Respond to Client Needs

Activities: The SARE “Living on the Land” curriculum (Donaldson, et. al, 2008) encouraged participants, including SDSU Extension colleagues, to implement a multi-faceted approach to reach small acreage owners, many of whom have extensive experience with computers and have adapted to learning from the internet, social media, family and friends.  Content for a South Dakota Small Acreages Facebook page, website, and quarterly electronic newsletter (e-newsletter) were developed in addition to a comprehensive statewide contact list designed to keep communities of small acreage and horse owners informed about SDSU Extension programming updates, upcoming events and current topics.


The SDSU Extension Team collaborated with the creative designer from a local publication, “Today’s Horse Magazine”, to design a logo (Figure 1) that would appeal to acreage owners in SD, while maintaining the branding of SDSU Extension. 

Social Media

South Dakota has the largest percentage of Facebook users in the nation, with more than 31% of the state’s total population (Saleem, 2010) utilizing this social media tool.  A Facebook Fan page called “South Dakota Small Acreages” was launched in the fall of 2010.  The page is administered by SDSU Extension personnel and facilitates questions and answers about acreage management, and is an excellent tool for promoting upcoming small acreage, equine and other relevant programming.  The Facebook page serves as an interactive medium and links to new information and events.

Comprehensive Contact List

Small acreage owners and other interested individuals are added to a contact list regularly.  Initial contacts with clientele are made in person, and through telephone, email and Facebook communication with small acreage team members.  The contact list is an extremely valuable tool for quick and free electronic marketing to the small acreage audience prior to relevant local and statewide events.  Addresses are easily removed from, or added to, the database. Careful consideration is taken not to inundate acreage owners with frequent emails, rather to target with premium and time-sensitive information.

Electronic Newsletter

A quarterly e-newsletter was developed as a tool to provide seasonally-relevant information.  Examples of featured topics include: when to turn livestock out to pasture, when to remove animals from pasture, weed of the month, helpful fencing tips, and timely hazards to be aware of (e.g. blister beetles in imported hay during a drought).  The e-newsletter is delivered quarterly to 1300 email recipients from our contact list.  An opt-out selection is included in every e-newsletter. 



Program Objective 1.  Initial Programming Efforts: Natural Resource Management and Horse Care Education

Comments from small acreage landowners at pilot programs were very positive. One such example is an e-mail received after a small acreage program held on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation:“I attended the workshop in Pine Ridge and it was one of the most practical sessions I have been privileged to participate in.  The presenters offered fascinating and practical insights and suggestions. I am using many of their ideas.” 

Participants at the pilot Black Hills programs in 2009-2010 rated the quality of the information they received as 8.7 on a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (outstanding). 

Individual small acreage consultations began, and continue to rise statewide.  In total, 350 face-to -face contacts have been documented since 2009.  Several of these contacts added new interests and topics have broadened to include miniature cattle, meat goats, fiber animal production and grant opportunities for acreage owners.


Program Objective 2.  Gaining Insight into South Dakota Small Acreage Owners: Canvassing Clientele.   

Turning Point data from the Sturgis, SD program held in 2009  revealed that more than half of small acreage owner survey respondents grew up in town (Table 1).  


Location Responses (n=13) Total 
Town 53.85% 7
Farm or Ranch 46.15% 6





Table 1. Where Small Acreage Owners Were Raised (Sturgis Program, 2009)


Several program advertising strategies were implemented to reach Black Hills small acreage owners, and the resulting participants were surveyed to determine how they learned about programs (Table 2) and what other small acreage topics they would like to learn more about in the future (Table 3).  Radio and internet are the most popular types of media that small acreage owners engage.  Horse pastures, alternative energy, and weed topics topped the list of future program interests.


Media Source Responses (n=18) Total 
Newspaper 22.22% 4
Radio 38.89% 7
Internet 27.78% 5
Other 11.11% 2







Table 2. Types of Media Most Frequently Used (Sturgis program, 2009).



Topic of Interest Responses (n=18)* Total 
Horse Pastures & Hay 20.59% 7
Weeds 17.65% 2
Alternative Energy 17.65% 6
Wildlife Management 11.76% 3
Water quality 8.82% 3
Manure Management 8.82% 4
Other Livestock Management 5.88% 1
Entrepreneurship 5.88% 2
Fire Protection 2.94% 6












*more than one response could be selected                                           

Table 3. Topics of Interest for Future Programs (Sturgis program, 2009).



Participants were more likely to respond to the survey when using audience response systems (76.5%) compared to hard copy evaluations (57.5%).  Participants also indicated their preferred days for attending small acreage programs (Table 4).


Preferred Program Time Responses (n=18) Total 
Days 13.04% 3
Evenings 30.43% 7
Saturdays 47.83% 11
Sundays 8.70% 2







Table 4.  Availability for Programming (Sturgis program, 2009).



Program Objective 3.  Marketing and Brand Development: Implementing a Multi-media Approach to Respond to Client Needs

Through the use of brand development, social media, e-marketing, and traditional methods of advertising that were employed, participation at our small acreage workshops grew 43% between 2009 and 2010.  


The logo incorporated the essence of South Dakota small acreages with an attractive abstract landscape alongside the SDSU Extension logo, and has been used to market all small acreage programming in South Dakota (Figure 1). 

Figure 1.  SDSU Extension/SD Small Acreages Logo

Figure 1.  Logo for Program and Advertising.


Social Media

As of March 1, 2013 the Facebook fan page had 170 fans.  Facebook analytics demonstrate that the three urban areas of Rapid City, Sioux Falls, and Brookings, SD comprise 31.7% of the fans (54 of 170).  The additional fans come from smaller communities across the state (Table 5).  Topics drawing the most engagement from fans included plant identification “quizzes” and hay purchasing/conserving information.

Location 1Population

Percentage of Total

Fans (n=76)



Rapid City 67,956 15.8% 27
Brookings 22,056 9.4% 16
Sioux Falls 153,888 6.5% 11
Custer 2,067 2.4% 4
Sturgis 6,981 2.4% 4
Hereford NA 1.8% 3
Hot Springs 3,711 1.8% 3
Volga 1,768 1.8% 3
Dell Rapids 3,633 1.8% 3
All Other Reportable Locations   <1.2% 2
















Table 5.  Hometowns of Facebook Fans.


Comprehensive Contact List

A contact list of email addresses obtained from small acreage, horse and 4-H activities has grown from 150 contacts in 2009 to over 1000 contacts in 2013. Names were added to the list from small acreage and/or equine event participation since 2009. This list is used for the quarterly e-newsletter as well as program announcements.

Electronic Newsletter

Volume 1 was submitted for NACAA competition and won the state award for Newsletter in 2012.  Volume 2 was formatted as recommended through NACAA competition review to improve reading ease.  Numerous hyperlinks, How-To pictures and an Upcoming Events calendar are included in each edition.  Currently, two volumes consisting of four issues each have been distributed to the contact list and promoted on Facebook.  



Initial programming efforts were based on an immediate natural resource training need, as observed by SDSU Extension personnel, for small acreage horse property owners.  Forage and livestock expertise within the small acreage team addressed these needs while canvassing the clientele for other training needs.   Pilot results of surveys corroborated Ehmke and Mount’s findings that many small acreage owners are new to rural living (2007), as 53.85% of survey respondents grew up in town.  Initial survey results also verified our assumptions that horse pasture management is a primary concern of small acreage owners.  Additionally, the timing of programming was also a critical component to our effort’s success.  As expected, our pilot surveys showed that a large percentage of the small acreage audience in South Dakota have careers and work on weekdays, so reaching them on weekends, or evenings was deemed most appropriate (47.83% of respondents preferred Saturdays over weekdays 13.04%).  This preliminary data also compliments the work of Westenbroek et. al (2009) who found that 65% of small farm producers in NY work off-farm and are therefore unavailable for traditional weekday programming.  

As feedback came in, so did the clientele’s training wish-lists; additionally, individual small acreage consultations began to rise statewide.  Several of these contacts added new interests, and topics have broadened to include miniature cattle, meat goats, fiber animal production and grant opportunities for acreage owners.  To meet these needs, the small acreage team expanded to include partnerships with other Extension personnel with expertise in these areas, and additional partnerships were created with government and non-profit conservation groups. 

With a tremendous amount of information accessible literally through our fingertips via the Internet, we are living in an era where (informational) instant gratification is becoming not only the norm, but also expected.  Through this transition, people are becoming lifelong learners where adults seek information beyond the walls of a University classroom.  Branding of our services, especially with the use of social media, became a critical component to the successful augmentation of traditional advertising methods.  Through the use of social media, e-marketing, and traditional methods of advertising that were employed, participation at our small acreage workshops grew 43% between 2009 and 2010 alone.  The Facebook analytics show us that small acreage owners near larger urban areas comprise the largest concentration of fans in the state (31.7% of fans come from Rapid City, Sioux Falls, and Brookings, cumulatively), compared to fans from smaller, rural communities.  This data supports our assumption that small acreage owners tend to live near larger cities with more amenities, including jobs.  SDSU Extension personnel have noted that small acreage contacts with internet access have been more inclined to continue contact after the initial program they attended and to utilize other services that Extension has to offer.

The SDSU Extension small acreage team is continuing to connect with audiences, and is expanding their reach beyond the Black Hills to target acreage owners across South Dakota.  Programming will continue to target the growing and ever-changing needs of our clientele under the auspices of our branded and recognized program, promoted through social media and e-communications, and in collaboration with natural resources experts and community leaders.  The SDSU Extension small acreage team has become the coordinating group that connects people and communities, paring challenges with solutions.



The authors thank Dusty Jager, Tracey Renelt, Adele Harty, Robin Salverson and Erin Cortus for their assistance in serving as collaborators, presenters, and supporters of the SDSU Extension Small Acreage Program.  We would also like to thank fellow SDSU Extension colleagues Jim Krantz and Janna Kincheloe for reviewing this article, as well as Dr. Betsy Greene from UVM.


Literature Cited

Donaldson, S., Etter, S., Hamblen, B., Hefner, M., Laughlin, K., Smith, E., Stienbarger, D., Williams, C. & Williams, W.  (2008). ‘Living on the Land’ curriculum expansion and instructor trainings.  Western SARE Project Number EW06-001.

Ehmke, C. and Mount, D.  (2007, August).  Reaching the small acreage audience through collaboration: The Small Acreage Conservation Education and Outreach Project.  Journal of Extension (On-line), (45)4, 4IAW3.

National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS).  (2007).  Census.  

Saleem, M. (2010).  “Facebook by the Numbers”.   Retrieved from

Turning Technologies, LLC. (2009). Turning Point.        

Westenbroek, P. 2009. Extension on demand for new livestock producers in Sullivan County.  Northeast SARE Project Number LNE09-290


1 American FactFinder2.  US Census Bureau, 2010 Census.  Retrieved Oct. 2012.