Meet the Sperry Family: Four Generations of Cooperative Governance Leadership

Nov 03, 2023

Matthew and Scott Sperry stand next to red sprayer
While multi-generational family farms are common across much of the Midwest, it is not as common to find multiple generations involved in the governance of a cooperative. But for the Sperry family of Bath, South Dakota, four generations have been involved in Agtegra’s governance through its board and delegate council.

Father/son duo Scott and Matthew Sperry currently sit on Agtegra’s delegate council, which serves as the liaison between the board of directors and the member-owners. Scott’s father, James (Jim), served as a director for South Dakota Wheat Growers from 1996 – 1999, and Jim’s father, Allen, served as a director from 1948-1972. Allen and Jim are one of only seven father/son combinations who have served on SDWG’s board. Now, Scott and Matthew continue the family legacy by both serving on Agtegra’s delegate council.

The family farm, Sperry Farms Inc., started when Allen’s father purchased the farm near Bath in the ‘20s. Once Allen began managing the farm, he also became involved in several organizations, including serving as senator in the South Dakota Senate from 1965-1966 and 1969-1974.

For 20 of Allen’s 24 years on SDWG’s board of directors (1950-1970), he served as president, making his presidency one of the longest in SDWG board history.

Allen’s son, Jim, followed in many of his father’s footsteps by serving on the SDWG board from 1996 – 1999 and in the South Dakota House of Representatives from 1997-1998.

These same values of service to their community run deep in the fourth and fifth generations of Sperry Farms Inc. through Scott and Matthew.

“They were always very community-minded,” says Scott about his father and grandfather. “And now I’m also involved in several of the same organizations.”

Over the years, the family farm has been home to dairy cattle, feeder cattle, wheat, oats, barley, corn, alfalfa and finishing hogs. Today, the farm primarily grows corn and soybeans.

After Scott graduated from South Dakota State University, he and his wife, Kathy, pursued other career opportunities before coming back to the farm to join Scott’s father and brother on the farm.

“I always planned on coming back at one point,” explains Scott.

Coming back to farm during the ‘80s farm crisis had its challenges.

“The first few years were breakeven at best because the prices were terrible,” says Scott. “We just weren’t making much money, but no one else was either.”

When his father decided to retire and his brother moved away in the ‘90s, Scott started managing the farm himself. After Matthew, the youngest of Scott and Kathy’s five children, graduated from SDSU in 2021, the farm’s legacy of father/son partnerships continued.

Matthew has many fond memories of helping his father on the farm as a young kid.

“I can remember working on homework in the combine, and then I would fall asleep on Dad with my homework all over the floor of the cab,” laughs Matthew. “I just wanted to be with Dad.”

Growing up on the farm also meant Matthew and his four siblings learned a lot of life lessons in the field or in the shop.

“We were always learning, asking questions, and figuring things out,” says Matthew. “When we would have a new idea, Dad would let us try it out, but we would often realize our ideas maybe weren’t the best or easiest ways to do things. There was a reason Dad did things the way he did.”

For Matthew, getting the chance to come back to farm is something that he realizes not every farm kid has, especially as the youngest sibling. And once he found that he could combine his love for technology with farming, he saw the value he could bring to his family’s farm.

“I have always been the fixer when it came to technology,” says Matthew. “Growing up on the farm is what I knew, and when I realized how much technology is in farming, it all clicked for me.”

While studying agronomy and precision agriculture at SDSU, Matthew sought experiences to diversify his knowledge of the industry, which led him to intern with Agtegra’s agronomy team during the summer of 2020. Now as a delegate for Agtegra, he appreciates how he can continue learning more about the business’ products and services while playing a role in Agtegra’s governance.

Matthew was elected to the council in December 2022, just a year and a half after graduating from college.

“It’s about time someone else stepped in,” laughs Scott as he gives Matthew a nudge.

Like his father and grandfather, Scott has served on numerous boards and organizations, including with Northern Electric, township and soil conservation boards. Scott has served on Agtegra’s delegate council since his election in 2002.

“My dad encouraged me to get on the council just to learn more about it, and I’ve really enjoyed being on it,” says Scott.

Scott and Matthew agree that others should get involved in the cooperative’s governance.

“It’s a great experience,” says Scott. “It’s an opportunity to meet many people and help guide the future of our cooperative.”

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