Pictured Above: A.J. Swanson of Sioux Falls, S.D., has a fleet of rural lifestyle equipment, including zero-turn mowers, tractors and attachments, utility vehicles and a skid steer. He says reliability is one of the main qualities he looks for in a machine.
Editor's Note: Early summer is a prime time for rural lifestylers to maintain pastures to ensure good grass growth and weed control. Here's a story from Rural Lifestyle Dealer's archive showing how one customer invests in a fleet of equipment to maintain 600 acres, 300 of which are prairie.
A.J. Swanson says he’s a lawyer, farmer and “someone who can spot a Canada thistle from a mile away.” His life in the country revolves around his law practice and preserving the South Dakota tall grass prairie that his great grandparents Karl and Karolina Svensson settled in 1870.
“It’s like living in my family’s history book. We know where the original dugout was. The original log house built in 1871 is still here,” says Swanson. “All the land I own today was owned by my great grandfather. He died on the property in 1890. His son, my grandfather, was born here and my father was born here.”
Swanson grew up on the Sioux Falls, S.D., farm and returned in 1983. Since then, he has been investing in rural lifestyle equipment to maintain his property. He has worked with one dealer, Pfeifer’s, also of Sioux Falls, for most of his equipment purchases.“It’s like living in my family’s history book. We know where the original dugout was. The original log house built in 1871 is still here,” says Swanson. “All the land I own today was owned by my great grandfather. He died on the property in 1890. His son, my grandfather, was born here and my father was born here.”
Living, Working in the Country
Swanson’s property includes 600 acres, about 300 of which are prairie. The farmstead sits on about 75 acres and includes 2 houses, sheds, grain storage and a shop. His brother farms the remaining acres and grows corn, soybeans and hay. Swanson left the farm to pursue a law career and has now been practicing for 42 years, specializing in corporate, business and transportation law.
Meet Rural Lifestyler A.J. Swanson
Occupation: Lawyer specializing in corporate, business and transportation law.
Property: 600 acres in Sioux Falls, S.D., along the Big Sioux River; 300 acres of cropland and 300 acres of native prairie.
Equipment: Four Kubota tractors (M8030, MX5100, M8540 and L39TLB); two Kubota zero-turn mowers (ZD326 and ZD331); Kubota SVL75 track skid steer with a Lorenz snow blower attachment; Kubota RTV1140; Polaris 500 and Polaris 6x6 utility vehicles; and Woods Equipment and Land Pride mowers.
“I do a lot of work with transportation companies and the issues that arise in the regulatory environment. I also represent local and family-owned businesses, car dealerships, convenience stores, auctioneers and implement dealers.
“The law practice took me away from the farm for long days. I’ve lived on that farm for 30 years and decided to merge the two and put the law office on the farm. I did that 8 years ago and wish I would have done it 30 years ago. I hardly get to town anymore, which is just fine with me,” Swanson says.
He built an 1,800-square-foot law office that resembles a train depot, reflecting his interest in transportation. His home is about 400 feet from the office and both are about a half mile from the road.
Maintaining the Property
Swanson’s farm is located along the Big Sioux River, near the border between South Dakota and Iowa. “It’s a very hilly farm with Class VIII soils (limitations for crop production). The prairie, for the most part, has never been tilled. It’s ‘mountain goat’ country. We’ve taken some land out of active production and put it into permanent cover.
“My focus has been on prairie restoration. My intent and purpose is to control noxious weeds, such as thistles and leafy spurge. We have tremendous pressure from Canada thistle,” he says. “The first year or two we sprayed by airplane. It was a prairie of thistles, that’s all it was.”
He also did some grass seeding early with a Truax 812 drill when he converted about 30 acres from crops to grass. Since then, Swanson has incorporated annual burning each April; regular mowing of strips of non-native grass that act as fire breaks; and hand spraying to continue the restoration process.
“We wanted to make the prairie into bite-size pieces so we have 5-20 acres of native prairie grass separated by fire breaks. Much of the grass in the firebreaks is not native. It’s brome and blue grass. My goal is to have a minimum of residue in the firebreaks. It helps keep the fire breaks impenetrable when we burn the prairie.”
Swanson mows firebreaks throughout the growing season.
“When I first moved here, I bought a Kubota B7200 lawn-and-garden tractor with a 72-inch deck that I picked up at a garage sale. It was a wonderful hydrostat tractor. I kept it for 20 years and in the course of owning that tractor, I’ve probably owned another 10 or 12 tractors.”
The oldest Kubota he owns is a M8030-DT, dating from the mid 1990s. “It’s an orchard tractor that I bought out of California a few years ago. It’s a horse. I can run any of the mowers with that one.”
Swanson’s current equipment includes 2 Kubota zero-turn mowers, a ZD326 60-inch mower and a ZD331 72-inch mower. Those mowers are mainly used around the law office and farmstead area. “I try to have 2 of them running at the same time. I hardly get to run them anymore because I have two grandnephews that live next door.”
A Kubota SVL75 track skid steer with a Lorenz snow blower attachment helps with snow removal on the long driveways.
Out on the prairie, he mows the steep hills with a MX5100 tractor and a 90-inch Woods Equipment mower. For flatter areas, he uses a M8540 and a 120-inch Land Pride mower. A Kubota L39TLB tractor with loader and backhoe helps Swanson deal with large rocks.
“Our farm is on a very rocky ledge next to the river where the glaciers dumped loads of rock. Rocks are constantly coming up in the field.” He removes them from the fields and transports them to rock piles.
Two utility vehicles, a Kubota RTV1140 and a Polaris 500, are also part of Swanson’s rural lifestyle fleet and are critical for spot weed control when he uses a hand sprayer.
“I use my Kubota or Polaris to travel the firebreaks. I get out and start walking with my eyes on the ground. I keep roaming around in circles until I feel I have accomplished something or until I need to go back home and reload the sprayer. I don’t walk every square foot, but I get within sighting distance of every part of it.”
Swanson relies on another specially equipped Polaris 6x6 for the annual burn.
“It’s a custom built rig with fire pump and sprayer. It only has 70 miles on it. I bought it through a broker from a fire department that was cutting back on some of their equipment. We use it for fire prevention when we do our prairie burns.”
He says this about his equipment: “I don’t think I probably acquired equipment the way most people approach it. It wasn’t like there was a method to my madness. I added equipment more on a whim. I wish I could say I had a plan. Could I get by with a lot less? Sure, but it doesn’t hurt to have a spare unit.”
Relationship Encourages Buying
All of his recent purchases have been made at Pfeifer’s, whose lines include Kubota, John Deere, Bobcat, Massey Ferguson, Hesston and Kuhn. Swanson’s relationship with Pfeifer’s makes a difference in when and why he purchases equipment. He met the dealership team about 13 years ago when he started consulting with them on legal issues for the business. However, his family’s relationship goes back much further.
“When I go in to pick up parts or check on the new Kubotas, I always make sure to talk with the current owner’s father. He can recall doing business with my grandfather. The gentleman has a great memory and can recall everyone in my family. It was a natural thing to do business with them. I find them to be very dependable and honest.”
A.J. Swanson is restoring 300 acres of South Dakota prairie, land that his family homesteaded in 1870. He uses a variety of compact equipment, along with weed control practices of burning and spot spraying. Swanson’s law office is based on the property and is the white building in the background.
Swanson says he visits the dealership a couple times a month, sometimes to talk business and other times to see what’s new. He also does a lot of Internet research to keep up on Kubota’s latest offerings.
“I look for equipment that is super reliable. It may sit for 4 weeks and I need to be able to just start it up and go. I’m looking for a reasonably good bargain in the process. The Kubota equipment is always reliable. They’re not giving it away, but it’s a really good value.”
He says he’s not in the market right now to purchase more equipment. “I’m in love with everything I own. If it’s working, I keep it, but I do like to trade up.”
Swanson is now seeing the results from what his fleet of equipment — and his dedication — have accomplished. “I have several 10 or 15 acre parcels that are 99% native plants, no thistles and only an occasional invader of smooth brome. It’s just stunning.”
Nurturing a Relationship for Generations
Jim Pfeifer, owner of Pfeifer’s in Sioux Falls, S.D., recalls the story about the first time his father, Bob, saw a compact tractor. It was the mid-1970s. “The Kubota rep pulled in with a B7100 on a snowmobile trailer behind a Buick Electra. My dad said, ‘What is it?’”
Pfeifer says his dad researched the tractor and saw the potential for the compact tractor segment. “He said he had the same feelings in 1964 when he took on Bobcat.”
A.J. Swanson of Sioux Falls, S.D., invests in a variety of equipment for the many tasks on his property, which include mowing different terrains, moving large rocks, snow removal and traveling 300 acres of prairie for weed control.
The dealership’s lines now include John Deere, Bobcat, Massey Ferguson, Hesston and Kuhn. The fourth generation of the Pfeifer family is now selling equipment to rural lifestylers and ag producers. It’s that connection from generation to generation that earns them business from rural lifestylers like A.J. Swanson, whose grandfather bought equipment from Pfeifer’s. Swanson has been buying equipment from the dealership for 13 years as part of his efforts to restore his land to native prairie.
“A.J. is one of those customers who is not just a customer, he’s a friend,” Pfeifer says. The dealership also has a professional relationship with Swanson as he serves as their lawyer. “We switch rather quickly from legal discussions to his tractor needs. He says, ‘By the way, what do you think of this?’”
Pfeifer says Swanson is very knowledgeable about tractors and does a lot of his own research on the Internet, as do many of his other rural lifestyle customers.
“It certainly makes our job easier. They’ve done the studying. They know what they need. Then, it gets down to availability, price and supporting the product.”
Pfeifer’s son, Dallas, agrees. He’s the fourth generation to work at the dealership and works closely with Swanson.
“There’s so much on the web that customers know a lot before they call us. A.J. knows what he wants. He calls up and says, ‘Is this tractor going to do the job for me?’ and then we talk about specific applications,” Dallas says.
Pfeifer’s finds ways to help other rural lifestylers who aren’t as familiar with equipment. “We offer to have them watch the first service. They can watch my guys go through it. This helps them feel more comfortable later on and the next time they can do it themselves. We might lose some service money, but it’s better overall in terms of the relationship,” Dallas says.
Pfeifer mentions other policies that help them keep long-time customers like Swanson. “When he has an issue we work to get him serviced or let him use other equipment in a pinch. We keep inventory on hand, so when he comes in he can see the new products. And, the most important thing is to research what’s new so we can see what might fit his needs.”
Pfeifer’s, Sioux Falls, S.D., has worked with rural lifestyler A.J. Swanson and his family for generations. They recently received an award for being a Bobcat dealer for more than 40 years. The dealership team includes (from left): Dan Lenz, Stan Schaal, Jim Pfeifer, Bob Pfeifer and Dallas Pfeifer. Daryl Hanson, their Bobcat representative, is on the far right.