Bell Enterprises Inc.

Grain handling, transportation and farmer support in central Illinois
Written by: 
Ivy Carter
Produced by: 
Drew Taylor

In central Illinois there are few privately-owned grain handling and transport operations quite like Bell Enterprises Inc. (BEI). For more than 42 years, BEI has operated as an agricultural firm specializing in grain storage, handling and transportation centered on exceptional customer service. With grain elevators in Deer Creek, Congerville, Goodfield and Mackinaw, Illinois, as well as a sizable fleet of semi-trucks and trailers, BEI is well equipped to meet the specific needs of regional producers.

BEI understands what regional producers need and want because the company is the product of a family farming tradition. BEI has been running strong on family ownership for more than four decades.

Bell Enterprises Inc.

Family origins

“My father, Melvin Bell, founded the company in 1973,” says Doug Bell, president and general manager of BEI. “My brother, Mark Bell and I grew up working beside him.”

Melvin’s dream for BEI began while he was farming in the ‘40s. He ran the family farm on his own, sold fertilizer and applied fertilizer for a private company until approximately 1970. As his sons, Doug and Mark, began to take more of an interest in agriculture, Melvin decided to start his own business which involved grain and fertilizer, while continuing to farm.

At the time, the grain business consisted of one grain dryer, which had a capacity of approximately 500 bushels per hour and a storage capacity of approximately 80,000 bushels. The fertilizer capacity consisted of liquid fertilizer only and a capacity of 30,000 gallons and one truck that could spread liquid fertilizer on a farmer’s field.

“He started out with just five customers and as time passed, the business began to grow,” says Doug. “As my brother and I became more actively involved, I found my passion in the grain and fertilizer side of the business and Mark found his passion in the farming operation.”

Further expansion

In 1973, the company incorporated and became known as Bell Enterprises Inc.  Following 1973, the Deer Creek location, which was the only location at the time, continued to expand in all three fields of operation. In 1981, BEI purchased a second location in Goodfield, Illinois, followed by a third location in Congerville, Illinois. A few years later, the company added a fourth site in Mackinaw, Illinois.

“These facilities were all grain elevators being used by farmers to deliver grain from their farms in the fall,” explains Doug. “All facilities had capabilities of handling, drying, and storing grain but were in dire need of upgrades to keep up with the modern times of agriculture.”

The grain business is the core of the operation. The four locations, solely owned by BEI, specialize in drying, storage and marketing, and are equipped for receiving grain from farmers.

The grain operation has grown from 80,000 bushels of storage and 500 bushels per hour of drying in 1970 to 6.4 million bushels of storage and 22,700 bushels per hour of drying. “The commodities BEI typically handles are corn, soybeans and non-GMO soybeans,” says Doug. “In 2014, BEI handled 1 million bushels of non-GMO soybeans which made us one of the largest suppliers of non-GMO soybeans in central Illinois.”

In 2001, BEI joined with a group of seven other country elevators and built a rail loading facility in Bloomington, Illinois. “We sell and ship grain to this facility in order to sell grain all over the country and it is shipped in 75 to 100 car unit trains,” notes Doug. “BEI also ships grain to processing plants to be used in the production of ethanol.”

Diversification

To further serve area producers, BEI began to expand the fertilizer side of the business, which eventually became known as Bell Crop Care Inc. “In addition to handling liquid fertilizer, we also added dry fertilizer, anhydrous ammonia and various types of agricultural pesticides,” adds Doug.

By 1996 Bell Crop Care had grown to a point where it was applying fertilizer and pesticides with its application equipment on approximately 50,000 acres per year. The capacities also increased from 30,000 gallons of liquid fertilizer storage to approximately 2 million gallons of storage by 1996. In addition, Bell Crop Care was able to store approximately 600 tons of dry fertilizer and 18,000 gals of anhydrous ammonia.

“Bell Crop Care built a warehouse for packaged agriculture chemicals and a bulk chemical facility for mixing chemicals with liquid fertilizer,” says Doug. “At that time our application equipment consisted of eight different self-propelled applicators used for applying fertilizer and pesticides.”

From 1973 to 1995, the need to move the grain and fertilizer was ever present. In 1995, BEI expanded its transportation division and applied for an interstate and intrastate operating authority for hire.

“Authority was granted and BEI became a common carrier for hire,” says Doug. “Not only did the transportation division continue to haul grain and fertilizer for itself and for hire, it eventually found a niche in hauling products that require tankers.”

Today, BEI hauls industrial grade and food grade alcohols, resins, antifreeze, liquid cleaners and motor oils. “We now have 20 semi tractors and approximately 50 trailers that cover 1.5 million miles a year,” notes Doug.

While BEI’s grain and transportation divisions continue to run strong, the company has since outsourced the fertilizer side. “In 1996 we decided to lease the facility and operations to a nearby retail fertilizer company so more emphasis could be placed on the grain operations,” adds Doug. “Bell Crop Care continues to deal in fertilizer, but for industrial accounts only.”

As a local organization, rooted in farming, BEI is in touch with its customer base. “Our service comes from knowing what our customers need because we are well established in the local industry,” says Doug. “We know what services and information will help them and there’s value in having that type of contact.”

In the ever-changing agricultural world, Bell Enterprises Inc. has faithfully served patrons since 1973, with quality grain handling, transportation, storage and support to back it all up.

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