June 18, 2020
Agriculture roots run deep for Joe Shell. The original farm and homeplace in Carter County, Tenn., is just nine years short of Tennessee Century Farm status. He's now raising soybeans, corn, wheat, hay and cattle next door in Washington County.
He's expanded over the years, making room for his son, David, 32, who chose farming over opportunities he could have pursued with a degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Tennessee.
"From 2009 to 2012, the farm doubled in size," Joe says. "David decided, with the farm doubling and with the opportunity to grow even more, he would enjoy farming and hold off on a job with his degree at that time."
"I like the ability to go through the year being responsible for my own crops and cows," David says. "I like being part of multiple industries — straw, cattle, and grain."
He likes the opportunity to do different things throughout the year instead of the same repetitive tasks.
"That’s a big reason he decided to farm in 2012. He loves operating the equipment, handling cattle, and being the boss of his own enterprise," Joe says.
David came back at an opportune time. "Every aspect of farming at that time was a homerun. Feeder calves were bringing $1,000 or more apiece; corn was over $6 a bushel; beans were over $12, and tobacco was still a solid income," Joe says.
It was a good fit for David and an opportunity to continue the legacy. "David always tagged along since he was a kid, Joe says. "He started working about the time he was 14. He started full time in 2012, when he was 24."
"If there's anything I learned since graduating in 2012, it's that you never know what tomorrow brings," David says.
He says he hopes to farm for many years, but "if things get bad off, I can get a very good job with this degree. That's a relief and a blessing."
The ag influence also inspires Joe's daughter, Julia, 26, who graduated from the University of Arkansas with an agriculture degree and works for Tennessee Farmers Co-op, La Vergne, Tenn. "She works at home about half the time and travels statewide the other half," Joe says.
Joe's wife, Lisa, runs her own seeding business.
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