John Shepherd has made a name for himself in farming circles by taking pieces of mostly unwanted farmland in and around Blackstone, Va., and producing high yielding, high quality grain crops.

He is the winner of an annual Virginia Farm Bureau Conservation Award and the 2012 Bayer Crops Science Young Farmer Sustainability Award. 

Shepherd has a story to tell for anyone interested in getting into farming without the benefit of inherited land or modern equipment.

Shepherd’s third crop of wheat placed second in the Virginia Wheat Yield Contest.

“Most people around here were very skeptical about my yield — they just didn’t think anyone could grow more than 100 bushels of wheat per acre on this land,” he says.

When Shepherd got started farming in 2007, his father worked on the Flue Cured Tobacco Stabilization Board and farmed a few acres of tobacco and grain.

With a little help from his father and with small, mostly antiquated equipment, Shepherd jumped into farming while working a full time job as a seed and fertilizer sales rep.


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“I graduated with a degree in agriculture from Virginia Tech in 2007, and I already had my first crop in the ground,” he says.

“I rented a 40 acre field that had grown tobacco for many years and was so eroded I had to rebuild the field before I could farm it.” This is the field that produced his award winning 121 bushel per acre wheat crop.

“I was able to get a FSA loan because I had grown watermelons on a small scale while I was in school. And, I was able to get some additional matching funds to help restore the land,” he adds.