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Following the Footsteps

The 2021 Tennessee FFA Star Farmer award recipient, Jacob Bell, carries on the farming legacy of his grandfather while building a name for himself
Story and photos by Cara Moore 8/23/2021


Jacob’s agricultural roots run deep through five generations of farmers before him. With Jacob above are grandparents Tom Sr. and Helen Bell, left, and father Tom Bell Jr.
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"I'm confident I’m leaving the farm in good hands.” 

These are the words of Tom Bell Sr., a proud grandfather who has watched his 19-year-old grandson, Jacob Bell, grow to be a capable and skilled overseer of the family cattle and crop business. 

As a fifth-generation farmer, Jacob is committed to preserving the legacy of the century farm that his predecessors built before him. The Bell Farm was originally founded in 1906 by Jacob’s second great-grandfather, Robert Alexander Bell Sr., in the rural town of Friendship, Tenn., just eight miles southeast of Dyersburg. Jacob’s grandfather, Tom Bell Sr., brought the first registered Red Angus cattle to West Tennessee in 1996 and gave Jacob his first calf when he was only 6. 

This simple gesture sparked a love for livestock in Jacob that turned a farm hobby into his desired career. As a man of many talents, Jacob proved to be a promising football player as team captain of the Dyersburg High School team, even competing in the West Tennessee All-Star Football Game. However, when faced with the choice of what passion to pursue, Jacob determined to let go of football and fully invest himself in his family’s farm. 

Jacob is currently one-fourth owner of Bell Farms and plays a large role in the upkeep of the operation. From clipping the show calves to formulating diets to raising crops, Jacob stays busy on the farm.

“Everything just fell into place for me to be able to work on the farm,” he says. “My granddad was practically a legend when it came to showing Holsteins, and I’m just trying to follow in his footsteps the best I can.”

 One calf in 2007 has since become more than 20, and Jacob is eager to keep multiplying this number as his business grows. He and his family show their registered Red Angus cattle across the country, taking home numerous championship titles due to their cattle’s superior genetic merit.

“Between my freshman and senior year of high school, I added about 25 head of high-quality calves,” says Jacob. “That’s my pride and joy — getting some valuable animals in the show ring and in the donor pen as well.”

Although Jacob has many responsibilities around the farm, his primary focus is on purchasing high-quality females to improve the herd’s genetics through artificial insemination (AI) and embryo transfer. 

“Right now, I’m learning how to AI and breed for the best genetics,” he explains. “I make the call on embryo transplants in my own calves, and at the moment, we’ve got 15 embryos in. I especially enjoy showing cows to market my own genetics.”

Jacob’s diligent and successful work in the livestock industry led him to be selected as this year’s State Star Farmer at the 93rd Tennessee FFA State Convention. The award is given to the top applicant for the State FFA Degree who has conducted an outstanding supervised agricultural experience (SAE) program in production agriculture, and with active participation in the FFA during their time in the organization. 

Jacob’s SAE focused on beef production entrepreneurship, and positioned his registered Red Angus herd as one of the best in the state. Along with this esteemed award came the honor of participating in the Tennessee FFA Foundation Star Tour with four other State Star award recipients.  with four other Star award recipients. They embarked on a week-long tour of Tennessee agribusinesses across the state to showcase their SAE’s to other industry leaders. 

“FFA has allowed me to meet people I’d never otherwise get a chance to meet — even people I’d never expect to be involved in agriculture,” says Jacob. “My favorite part of the job is meeting new people in the industry.”

As a young man still in the early stages of his career, Jacob has learned that being a generational farmer is more than just doing exactly what your family has always done; it’s about following in your predecessors’ footsteps while blazing your own path. 

Jacob is currently a sophomore at the University of Tennessee at Martin working towards a degree in Agriculture Production. Although he says that he would love to have a career as a Bovine Reproduction Specialist, the experience Jacob has gained over the years on his farm has set him up to be successful in whatever area of the beef industry he chooses to pursue. 

Jacob is quick to point out that his family is a large contributor to his success, and there is no shortage of teamwork when it comes to running the farm. 

“I’ve been blessed with a great family that has raised me to handle livestock, and not everyone gets that opportunity,” he says. “I couldn’t do it without them.” 

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