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• With a little help from his father and with small, mostly antiquated equipment, John Shepherd jumped into farming while working a full time job as a seed and fertilizer sales rep.
VIRGINIA FARMER John Shepherd checks soil maps at one of his Blackstone, Va., corn fields.
Rough go on 40 acres
Making a living on 40 acres was rough, but he made it through the first year and began adding mostly run-down land and making it work for grain crops.
The second farm he picked up was a run-down 25 acres of good land that had been planted in pine trees in the summer of 2008. The drought and intense heat that year took out the pine trees and Shepherd added it to his farm.
“Virtually all of the land I farm is land that nobody else wanted. I haven’t taken any land from anybody who was taking care of the land and trying to make a living on it.
“Planting soybeans continuously for 25 years without adding lime or fertilization is not trying,” he adds.
When he started farming in 2007, Shepherd worked full time as a salesman for Meherrin Chemical Company and farmed at night. A nocturnal encounter with a power line convinced him he needed to either go full time or find time during the day to farm.
“It’s been an uphill battle, but I believe when you put everything you have into something and get good results, it means more to you,” Shepherd says.
“I like to take time to understand all that’s going on with a crop and do everything as timely as I can to produce the best crop I can, he adds.
Now, Shepherd grows about 1,000 acres, with half that double-cropped and all of it in continuous production of either grain crops or cover crops.
He says he has no-tilled every acre of land he has ever farmed and continues to do so.
“I had a great mentor, Mark Alley, when I was in school at Virginia Tech. Dr. Alley is a great example of how one teacher can have a profound impact on a student’s life,” Shepherd says.
“Some people think no-till is all about planting soybean seeds in wheat stubble, but Dr. Alley taught us that no-till farming is a system.