What is in this article?:
- John Shepherd growing high yielding grain on rebuilt land
- Rough go on 40 acres
- Cover crops part of system
- Thick file of soil maps
• 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.
Cover crops part of system
“A part of that system is cover crops, and I try to keep something growing on the land I farm all year around,” the young Virginia farmer explains.
When most people think of high production grain land, few consider south side Virginia to be one of those prime places. The land has produced tobacco and not much else for a couple of centuries.
Shepherd says by applying what the land needs and paying attention to the details of growing a crop, this land can be productive.
Corn, he says, has been a particular challenge.
Going from optimum soil moisture and fertility can be negated with a 10-12 day stretch of hot, dry weather. Despite the challenges, Shepherd says he needs corn in his rotation, and he’s determined to make it pay off.
However, this year, he planted 350 acres of grain sorghum, which may prove to be a better match for his rough land than corn.
He planted sorghum because excessive and continuous rainfall delayed wheat harvest and thus double crop-soybean planting.
“I planted soybeans up until July 5, but still had some wheat in the ground. I think the double-crop sorghum will have a better chance to make a decent crop than soybeans planted in mid-July,” he says.
Adding the new crop will force the Virginia farmer to make some changes in his cover crop system. Typically, he flies on hairy vetch in front of his corn crop and on soybeans before the leaves drop. The aerial application, he says, has worked out really well.
“I treat my cover crops a little different than most people, he says.
“I leave them in the field as late as I can. I’ve even planted seed into green vetch, and that takes some extra care, but still works out well for me,” he adds.
After his grain sorghum crop is harvested this year, he says he will probably fly on rye for a winter cover crop. “I’ll probably plant soybeans in those fields, and I don’t need vetch on beans. Oats might be an option, but I think it will be a little too late to plant oats.”