Over the relatively brief period of farming six years, the young Virginian has compiled a thick file of soil maps, which are the basis for all his fertility decisions. Farming 1,000 acres with fields averaging 15-20 acres, requires some precise management.

“Grid sampling just isn’t feasible on our small fields. The soils vary greatly, even in small fields, and only by tracking exactly what has been put on each part of each field can I provide my crops with the fertility they need,” he says.

In large part due to his success with farming poorly managed and often poor soils, Shepherd is now in demand as a consultant, which he does on a limited basis.

“I’m surprised at how many farmers don’t really understand basic soil science. They know what fertilizer formulations they use on their land, but many don’t really understand what is included in one formulation versus another, or how one would work better on some crops under different soil conditions,” he says.

The Virginia farmer also has a precise system of marketing his crops. With 32,000 bushel on-farm storage capacity, he has some flexibility on how much he can forward contract and how much he can hold for better prices.

Long-time grain buyer and current Murphy-Brown buyer David Hull says Shepherd learned all he could learn about marketing grain sorghum before he made the decision to plant the crop this summer.

“He is a young guy, but he has a good plan for marketing his crops — one of the most progressive and aggressive marketers I’ve run across,” Hull says.

At 28 years of age, the best part of his farming career is likely ahead of him, but Shepherd says he plans to move forward cautiously.

“I’m at the point that I can do everything myself, but to get bigger I will have to add employees and land, and I want to be very selective on how I do that,” he says.