2022: Spronk Family
The Minnesota Pork Board recognized the Spronk family of Edgerton, Minnesota, as this year’s Family of the Year award recipient.
There’s something to be said about family farms that withstand the test of time. Along with immense hard work, innovation and adaptability are necessary to adjust to the ever-changing feat of feeding the world. What began as a sole-proprietorship evolved into a multi-family generational entity that formed from the desire to maintain a viable, profitable farming business for generations to come. This year’s family of the year award recognizes the four owners of Spronk Brothers III and their commitment to local and international communities, philanthropy, and generational succession.
A Family Affair
Spronk Brothers III, a multifaceted farm spanning two generations in southwestern Minnesota, was established by brothers Gordon and Randy in 1993. What started as a 300-sow sizeable farm at the time has now grown to accommodate more than 10,000 sows. Though the sows are owned and produced by Spronk Brothers III, the sow sites are managed by the Pipestone System, operated by the Pipestone Veterinary Clinic.
Both brothers saw industry pressures and the changing of the model from their high exposure holding National leadership positions. They considered ways to be competitive domestically and internationally and decided to vertically integrate backwards, focusing on the network of crops, pigs, and manure at the time of Spronk Brothers III implementation. An on-farm feed mill stands on the farm’s original homestead which allows the business to manage feed costs and rations as well as utilize valuable manure for their crops.
“I believe there is no better place to raise pigs than where we are,” stated Randy. “We have the ability to grow our own feed, utilize the manure from the pigs, and we have available access to harvest capacity.”
As with all businesses, each person involved on the farm utilizes their unique skillset to help keep the farm functioning. Randy serves as managing partner of Spronk Brothers III, overseeing production and financial aspects of the business, while Gordon’s veterinarian experience serves as a crucial component in animal health and production model decisions.
Randy’s son, Seth, returned to the farm following the acquisition of his Masters in Business Administration. With his hand in nearly all facets of the farm, Seth is a jack of all trades, working closely alongside Randy as Chief of Operations.
“There was a period where I considered paddling my own canoe, and I did have engineering job offers,” Seth reluctantly stated. “I give my dad a lot of credit for this, as he was very silent on the matter and let me make up my own mind; I know this was intentional. But at the end of the day, my highest opportunity for financial success and a mental challenge was here at Spronk Brothers.”
On the opposite side of the business spectrum is Gordon’s son-in-law, Tyler. Prior to 2011, Tyler had little knowledge of agriculture or swine, but his background working as a financial planner at an asset management firm in the Twin Cities led to a valuable tie-in at Spronk Brothers III where he now oversees risk management of the operation. Tyler acknowledged the first number of years had a large learning curve, but the position made sense for him, as it fit well into what he does day-in and day-out.
Family farm generational transfers must be deliberate, purposeful, and planned out in order to succeed. Even more than that, Gordon explained the incoming generational leadership must have an interest in the business and desire to see it prosper.
Gordon and Randy both understood the importance of starting early in the transfer of ownership and leadership within the business. Currently, they are more than five years into the transitioning process, passing ownership to Gordon’s daughter Courtney and husband Tyler as well as Seth and his wife Taylor.
“If you start early, you can have the natural transition take place,” hinted Gordon. “The transition can’t happen overnight, it’s a slow process. We have focused on getting everyone into leadership positions and strategic planning roles, which has been key.”
Tyler described the transition as very “intentional”, not simply a passing of the torch running from 0 to 100, but a process with learning, observing, witnessing, and partaking. The intentionality behind the transition is driven by mentorship – not only on swine production, but also on instilling values and how to live life.
As an owner, there’s always a sense of fulfillment in having the business transfer to the next generation. “We will not be the 80-year-olds who can’t give up control. It’s time for the next generation to take over,” laughed Randy.
Seth and Tyler both explained their desire to continue down the path Gordon and Randy set and maintain growth while being good stewards of the land and assets passed down to them.
“We want to contribute to our community, provide good jobs, produce wholesome food, and hopefully someday pass the tradition to our kids and their kids,” Tyler stated. “That’s the heart’s desire.”
Each member of Spronk Brothers III possesses a deep desire to give back, and their noteworthy efforts have touched thousands locally, nationally, and internationally. The business sets aside a portion of their profits every year for charitable donations, primarily focused on those who are disadvantaged. Children’s Hope Society, Deb’s House, Atlas for Life, the Banquet, are a few of the organizations Spronk Brothers supports, in addition to building schools and orphanages on missions to India and Haiti.
At the core of it all, they believe, “If you’ve been blessed, you need to give back”, which is why philanthropy plays such a large role in their business philosophy.
Along with their charitable giving, the owners of Spronk Brothers III have dedicated much of their time giving back to the pork industry and associated industries. As a collective, the owners have served in various capacities on county, state, and national pork boards, USMEF, APAC, Pipestone System, and Wholestone Farms Boards of Directors and on several related committees.
Randy noted much of his exposure to different farming practices came from observing the industry from a national and international perspective. On a lot of aspects, he was educated from the organizations he was involved in.
Gordon recommends getting involved for two reasons: to influence the success of the industry and influence the future.
“I give back to an industry that has been good to me. I’ve spent my time, talent, and treasure by investing in an industry that hopefully will provide more for the next generation.”
He added, “We have a great industry in the U.S. I have been blessed to see and compare industries around the world. The least thing I can do is contribute back to it because it’s been good to my family.”
Seth reflected on his father’s and uncle’s involvement, understanding the ripple effect their participation had on the success of the family farm. “I’d like to be able to do the same – give back to the industry that’s given me so much and learn from a wide variety of people much smarter than me.”
The Outsider’s Perspective
Today’s consumers are asking more questions than ever before about where their food comes from and how it is raised. When asked what they hope their neighbors and consumers know about their farm, the owners of Spronk Brothers III were all synchronized in their thinking. They find it important for consumers to know Spronk Brothers III is locally owned and with that comes the responsible use of resources both on the land and in the barns.
“What we do here in Minnesota has an impact. At the end of the day, we are proud to be contributors to the local economy; we are proud to serve the industry for the greater benefit of the entire industry; we are proud to provide jobs and produce a successful product,” Gordon declared. “Farming is about raising food, and we are proud to be part of a rich history of food production.”
Randy added his desire for society’s trust. When it comes to sows and animal units, recording, application records, and other standard practices, he wants the public to know Spronk Brothers III makes decisions not just with the farm in mind, but society as a whole. The goal is to leave the land better than when they started farming it.
The values-focused foundation paired with forward-thinking adaptability served Spronk Brothers III well over the last few decades. Purposeful, generational succession planning has equipped the incoming leadership to continue the legacy set forth by previous generations to do what’s good for the land, animals, and local economy.