- He is Polk County’s Farmer of the Year for 2017.
The work never ends for Bennett and Rebecca Jacobs, a Rockmart-area couple who are ensuring that the fourth generation of farmers at the family homestead will see a fifth take over in the coming years.
The pair wake up in the morning to take care of their beef cattle grazing on 40 acres fenced in sections, making sure they have food and water enough before Bennett heads off to teach agriculture to students in Villa Rica, and Rebecca heads to work as a District Field Representative for the Georgia Farm Bureau. Daughter Aubrey, a first grader, heads to school while their young son Nolan still has a couple of years before he heads to class.
In the evening they come back and work together, sitting out another hay bale for the cows and finding small projects here and there to keep the list of chores continuing for the Jacobs family.
Late fall is a special time of year for the Jacobs family, because the latest round of calves are being born ahead of the start of winter during the final weeks of the year in late November and early December.
Everyone is busy on the farm, and even Aubrey and Nolan, who tag along and come up with their own adventures while Bennett and Rebecca remain busy with their own agendas to accomplish. Aubrey likes to find reasons to wander the acreage on nature walks. Nolan sometimes takes naps when his parents are busy.
Yet their hard work paid off this year as Bennett Jacobs was named Polk County’s Farmer of the year for 2017, a recognition of what they’ve been able to accomplish since the family settled back at the Jacob’s farm in 2009.
“When Rebecca moved back here in 2009, we’ve slowly built things back up. It was really grown up,” said Bennett Jacobs. “And we’ve done all of this out of pocket, and so over the years we’ve built our herd back up.”
Jacobs wasn’t always interested in farming. During his high school years his family began selling off their stock, and while he went off to college in Montana the family leased the property to hay growers.
He started out looking at a career in journalism and earned a degree in the field in Montana, where he met Rebecca while the two went to rival schools the University of Montana and Montana State University.
The Jacobs married, moved to Portland, Oregon and both had good jobs before they took a major life change and became beef cattle farmers back in Rockmart.
But once settled down after moving back to Polk County in the late 2000s, they were able to start a family and Bennett Jacobs returned to school to get a master’s degree in Agriculture Education.
“As a kid, this was something that was never posed to me,” Jacobs said. “No one told me that agriculture was something I could make a career out of. I got a bachelor’s degree in college before anyone said to me ‘you know, you can get a four year degree in agriculture.’ It kind of took a while to come back full circle into it.”
They continue to raise beef cattle and previously had pigs, but sold off the last of their pork stock and though haven’t made a final decision on bringing back sows and hogs, are thinking about it.
Part of the reason why they no longer have pig pens on their property is time.
Now that Bennett Jacobs teaches, keeping up with his livestock can be a challenge. However it does have benefits, since he gets to from time to time gets to use his farm as a practical classroom environment.
“It gives me an excuse to geek out on all the things I find interesting, and as anyone can tell you, you learn something better by teaching it,” Jacobs said. “It is an interesting job, and you learn something new all the time. ... Just yesterday I was taking kids to a competition in Ellijay for a livestock competition, and it just so happened that the farm here was right on the way.”
He had a procedure to be completed on a cow and unloaded a busload of his students onto his farm to take part, giving them a valuable and literal in the field experience with one of his beef cows.
“We worked up cows and went through a hands on demonstration, got back on the bus and onto the competition,” he said. “It was all in a day’s work. ... I’m encouraged to find hand’s on ways to provide lessons for my kids. And it isn’t just animal science. It is welding and woodworking and wiring.”
Jacobs said he couldn’t have made a better choice in life by taking on the farm.
“This was a tremendous opportunity for us, and I’ve been very fortunate that Rebecca has come into this and really embraced the agriculture lifestyle. She’s jumped right into it,” he said. “In many areas of the state, I’m Rebecca Jacobs’ husband, and not the other way around. She’s the celebrity when we go places.”
They are just one example of another growing trend recently reported in national news: the growth in the number of younger farmers taking to the fields for earning a living.
“We represent a demographic in agriculture that everyone wants to see,” Jacobs said. “For a long time, you hear what the rate of attrition in full time farming, and it is scary. The average age of a farmer is into their 60’s now, and as people are leaving there aren’t enough people replacing them. I think the trend is moving in the right direction, and that’s great.”
For only the second time in the last century, the number of farmers under 35 years old is increasing, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Census of Agriculture. Sixty-nine percent of the surveyed young farmers had college degrees — significantly higher than the general population, according to reporting from the Washington Post in recent weeks.
The number of farmers age 25 to 34 grew 2.2 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to the 2014 USDA census, a period when other groups of farmers — save the oldest — shrunk by double digits. In some states, such as California, Nebraska and South Dakota, the number of beginning farmers has grown by 20 percent or more.
Additionally, growth in agriculture education is being seen locally as well. Polk County College and Career Academy CEO Katie Thomas reported that in Polk School District, more than 300 students are involved in an agriculture class in Cedartown and Rockmart schools. And the program is set to grow as Rockmart High School will in the coming years get a new building for agriculture students to utilize, including state of the art animal sciences classrooms and more.
Growth in the number of farmers is all well and good, Jacobs said. His hopes are that with efforts like his own to get students more interested in agriculture, the more those numbers will grow in coming years and potentially stave off a big problem of a decreasing number of small, family owned farms in the nation.
However, he still has his own problems to deal with, since his farm has issues not entirely under his control. Calf season has come with tragedy as one of their new additions to the herd was stillborn.
The Jacobs believe the problem was malnutrition, since the grass and hay being fed to cattle isn’t as chocked full of nutrients usually found in feed generated naturally from their acreage, or purchased elsewhere.
Last year they were forced to buy hay during a particularly drawn-out drought, which Jacobs believes also might have stripped needed nutrients in grass and hay from the soil.
Without it, the cows don’t grow as big and calves don’t develop as well in the womb. Yet they aren’t entirely sure that is the problem.
Their stillborn sits in the freezer, at home and they expect answers as to why and thus a direction to move in once a cause of death is determined.
The Jacobs face additional hurdles in the future, such as fencing purchased through a grant to keep fields separated and help with rotating grazing areas for future development, and weed management among the many items that keep growing on their daily list of items to complete.
Yet so long as they work together, they’ll prove why they are a couple worthy of the title of “Farmer of the Year.” For so long as they stay steadfast, they plan to have a beautiful farm to pass on to Aubrey and Nolan when they are old enough to take over in years ahead.
“We’re proud of the progress we’ve been able to make, and we feel that we’re far from maximizing the potential of the acres that we have here,” Jacobs said. “We’re looking to be able to expand into other properties and areas as well. It is something we look forward to doing for a long time to come.”