Ron D. Offutt owner of a new wheat farm in Ft. Pierre.  (courtesy)

He’s been called the Sultan of Spuds and the Lord of the Fries because he’s reportedly the nation’s - maybe the world’s - biggest potato farmer.

Ron. D. Offutt also is a big wheat farmer near Fort Pierre, as of late.

His company’s four-year contract-for-deed on 34,000 acres west and north of Fort Pierre recently was completed and he has the warranty deeds and county information indicating he paid $41.7 million for the land. That makes it one of the biggest land deals around, rivaling Ted Turner’s purchase of ranch land in Stanley County in recent years for buffalo grazing and raising.

This is Offutt’s only farmland in South Dakota and he has been farming it for four years, said Randy Fleishauer, his farm manager at the Gunsmoke Farms. There are 34,000 total acres, about 31,200 “open” acres that are farmed, growing spring wheat and winter wheat, with some milo, Fleishauer said.

No potatoes? “No, it’s all gumbo,” Fleishauer said. “You could probably grow a crop of potatoes on it, but you’d never get them out of the field.”

Meaning the legendarily slick and sticky mud hangs up spud harvesting machines and trucks.

The former Haskins’ farms, now called the Gunsmoke Farms, stretches from state Highway 34, a few miles west of Fort Pierre, north to Sansarc Road, ending about 20 miles northwest of Fort Pierre, Fleishauer said. It’s more than 53 square miles. And sort of tucked between Ted Turner’s Bad River Ranch and the old Triple U, now Ted Turner’s Standing Butte Ranch.

The Gunsmoke is a big operation, one that took 27 combines to get the bountiful harvest of 2 million bushels of wheat off in about two weeks in 2014, Fleishauer reported.

But he said the wheat crops vary year to year, always dependent on the rain,and don’t always total 2 million bushels.

Offutt grew up on his father’s farm near Moorhead, Minn., just east of Fargo, and graduated from Concordia College in 1964, the same year he started R.D. Offutt Co. to expand his father’s potato farm.

Within a couple years, he borrowed money from his father to buy a John Deere dealership in Casselton, west of Fargo. Things have gone well since.

Aside from his prominence as a potato farmer - from his 60,000 acres of spuds, mostly irrigated, that make him one of the biggest supplier of french fries to McDonald’s, they say - he’s also the largest dealer of John Deere equipment in the nation, maybe the world.

He’s got farms in nine states, including a big dairy and vegetable operation in Oregon, plus a “very small farm,” in Russia, said spokeswoman Anne Struthers from the corporate office in Fargo.

As founder, Ron Offutt remains chairman emeritus of the company, though he has turned over operations to his daughter, Christi Offutt, chair, and son-in-law, Keith McGovern, CEO of the Farm and Foods Division.

R.D. Offutt struck the South Dakota deal in 2012 with Leon and Nadine Haskins, and Rex and Leann Haskins with a “short-form” four-year contract for the two adjacent farms. Offutt recently filed the warranty deed indicating the contract was finalized this fall at a purchase price of $24 million to Leon and Nadine Haskins and $16.7 million to Rex and Leann Haskins for their respective acreages.

Rex Haskins still owns some buffalo pasture just west of Fort Pierre and just after the deal was struck with Offutt in 2012, he bought some farmland not far from Midland, in southwest Stanley County, according to county records.

In the early 1970s or so, Leon Haskins started farming the land that now is Offutt’s. His neighbors say Haskins broke the sod on a lot, turning grasslands to wheatland.

That was about the time the Soviet Union made their historic move into the world grain market, jacking up prices to still-record highs. The price tripled to about $5 a bushel, which would be well north of $20 a bushel in today’s dollars.

In response to the huge demand and to assuage American bread-eaters, U.S. ag officials increased the number of acres each farmer could grow of wheat. Then Sec. of Agriculture Earl Butz famously told farmers to plant “fence row to fence row.”

Wheat prices - and the prices of soybeans, corn and other crops - were very good for the rest of the decade, while cattle prices weren’t so hot.

R.D. Offutt Co. has named its new wheat farm, “Gunsmoke,” because there’s talk that at one time, James Arness, the Minnesota native who played Matt Dillon on the long-running TV Western of that name, had some ownership of some of the land.

The Haskins say they have never heard that story.

But a farmer and rancher near Midland says before Haskins broke up the land in the 1970s, it was owned by one of the big ranches, Western Cattle Co., into the 1950s. 

The TV series Gunsmoke starring Arness, ran from 1955-1975.

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