College experiences prepare next generation for farm, ranch and professional roles

AgUnited for South Dakota
Jacob Rausch (left) and Peter Rausch (right) preparing for their family ranch's sale day.

As college graduates around the country begin their new jobs, several recent South Dakota State University alumni are excited about how their classroom, internship and networking experiences  have prepared them for their roles at family farms, ranches and the agriculture industry.

Matthew Sperry is the fifth generation to farm on his family’s farm near Bath, South Dakota, where they raise corn, soybeans and hogs.  As the youngest of five siblings, he grew up helping in a number of ways on the farm.  He also was active in 4-H and his Catholic faith, which provided opportunities for leadership programs and networking.  

“Through 4-H, I was able to see a different side of agriculture. I always had my eye set on coming back to the farm and those different perspectives were helpful,” he said.

He attended South Dakota State University and graduated in May with degrees in precision agriculture and agronomy, along with a minor in agricultural business. 

“Precision Ag and agronomy are a perfect pair,” Sperry said.  “Precision ag is focused on using data from technology tools to make better decisions, but it is still important to have an understanding of the agronomy of crops in order to make the best use of the information the technology provides.” 

In addition to college education that provided classroom training on a variety of crop and livestock production, he was also active in several clubs on campus, including Agronomy Club and Precision Ag Club.  The networking opportunities in these groups are valuable, as many students will take professional roles in the companies, cooperatives and organizations across the state, Sperry said.

He is now working full-time on the family farm along with his father Scott Sperry, and looking forward to understanding more about the decisions that are made and especially how new technologies can help them be more productive and sustainable.

“My goal is to learn as much as I can and take everything in. I may have my college degree, but the on-the-job training has just started,” he said.

Jacob Rausch and Peter Rausch are part of the fourth generation at Rausch Herefords, a family ranch near Hoven, that is currently owned and operated by three generations, including their grandfather, great uncle, father and three brothers.

The family raises breeding stock, selling animals to other ranchers and beef producers to improve the genetics of their herds. Each year they have a production sale where they sell about 100 two-year old bulls, 50 yearling bulls and 250 replacement heifers. 

“With seven kids in the family, there was always plenty of work to do and lots of fun co-workers to do it with,” Jacob said.  

Both brothers knew they wanted to be involved in agriculture and the family business as they grew up.

“As the youngest, I was always looking forward to working on the ranch,” said Peter.  “I was on a horse before I started school, and wanted to build the strong work ethic I needed to come back to the ranch.”

In high school, Peter was involved in activities like FFA that helped build work ethic and leadership and teamwork skills. He attended SDSU and earned an ag science degree this May.  He is currently working in an internship with Jorgenson Land and Cattle Company, then plans to return to Rausch Herefords on January 1. He will be working as a herdsman caring for livestock and herd management.

“When you stay at one operation, you are more likely to continue with the same traditions and not innovate,” said Peter. “College and internships provide new skills, perspectives and experiences that we can take back to improve our own operations,”

 Jacob graduated in May with a degree in animal science and minors in ag marketing and ag business.  He is working as a feed consultant for Dakotaland Feeds, working with livestock producer clients in eastern South Dakota. 

“I want to continue to grow my expertise in cattle nutrition and learn everything I can about the feed industry while staying connected to the family business and helping them out when I am able,” said Jacob.

He was also involved in college organizations including the SDSU Livestock Judging Team and was a manager of the Little International Livestock Expo.

“It became evident pretty quickly that not only was I learning in the classroom, but I was surrounded by some very intelligent and motivated classmates that I learned a lot from as well,” he said.