Select Page

Aside from farm equipment, have you ever wondered what TikTok farmer, Mark Thomas collects? Tune-in to find out about Mark’s favorite Ag Leader products and how he utilizes them on his operation! 

Mark Thomas Background

Russ Morman 0:45: So today, we’re talking about precision farming with influencer, third-generation farmer and Ag Leader user, Mark Thomas. We’ll discuss everything there is to know about his farming operation, maybe some Kentucky bourbon, how efficiencies on the farm are really what he’s after and not necessarily farm growth and a lot of other things that you might not have known.

So, we’re doing this, Mark, as part of our 30-year anniversary. We were just talking before this; about the podcast you were on just couple weeks ago and you mentioned that you were in your mid-30’s. So, Ag Leader’s 30 years old, so that would’ve meant you’d be about five years old when Ag Leader started. And that would also mean you’d have been about 10 when I started at Ag Leader. I’ve been here a little over 25 years now. For those out there that are listening to this that might not know about you tell us a little bit about BLT farms and let’s get a little bit of background about you and then we’ll dive in.


Mark Thomas 1:39: So, at five years old, when Ag Leader would’ve started, I would’ve been riding around on a K Gleaner with a two-row head with my grandpa.

Russ Morman: Nice.

Mark Thomas: So, he was farming at that time, and we had a dairy. My dad grew up on a dairy farm and we milked cows until 1994. Then we purchased the home farm here. My mom and dad bought it from my mother’s parents. We kind of started grain farming. Then, we had tobacco, row crops, cattle, and hay and at that time we had a farrow-to-finish hog operation. We ran that up until the late nineties when the hog industry crashed. And that’s kind of when we turned and started focusing more on row crops.

Russ Morman: I gotcha. I gotcha.

Mark Thomas: I was your typical kid wanted to farm. Didn’t want to do anything but farm. Was in FFA all through high school then went to the University of Kentucky and got an Ag Economics degree. Completed there in December of 2009 and then came home in 2010 and started farming full time. I’m very fortunate to be able to do that. You mentioned BLT farms, which is our farm name and that actually stands for my parents, Becky and Larry Thomas. It just kind of happens to fit with bacon, lettuce, and tomato.

Russ Morman: See that now I learn something. So that’s cool now.

So, I’m trying to remember now, you still do the row crop stuff, you still do some hay cropping as well. You got rid of all the tobacco, and you don’t do any cotton or anything like that either. Right?

Mark Thomas: That’s right. We’re primarily corn and soybeans, we’ve got five acres of sweet corn for the farmer’s market.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas: And we still do some alfalfa and some grass hay. Our own grass hay for round bales for our cows. We got about a 25 head beef cattle herd. And then we raise square bales for the horse industry.

Russ Morman: I gotcha.

Mark Thomas: Pretty big industry here in Kentucky.

Russ Morman 3:24: Well, I was just going to say, yeah. Between the mint julep and the horse racing, I guess.

So, the bale thing actually brings up a question that I had that is not necessarily Ag Leader related, but I’m newer to TikTok and I was watching your videos and some of them have this warning, you know, “Hey, don’t do this. You could hurt yourself,” or whatever. It just seems really strange that watching square bales get gathered and built or I think one where you’re calibrating the steady steer got it. Do those affect your viewership at all with warnings like that or no?

Mark Thomas: It’s completely random when they put it on there. The first one that popped up for me was last year, I was running the vertical tillage over some ground. We were using our 8270s, I was running a SteerCommand in it with InCommand.

Russ Morman: Mm-hmm.

Mark Thomas: And of course, auto steer. I told them in my appeal that I was wearing my seatbelt and, you know, we were moving fast. We were running, I was running about 12 mile an hour, so it looked super-fast on a tractor. And they actually took the video down for dangerous acts. And I appealed it and won, they reinstated it with the little line across the bottom is, yeah, this could be harmful, but what blows my mind is, like you said, you don’t know what gets that. Because I’ve seen people jumping out of tractors and doing stuff that really could get you hurt. And everybody’s doing everything right and TikTok flags it. It won’t necessarily hurt views, except on that video.

Russ Morman: I gotcha. Yeah.

Mark Thomas: When they tag something like that, it can hurt it, because they don’t push it out to people.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas 4:58: So, I’ve been fortunate. That’s the only video that I’ve had taken down, but you know, I won the appeal, so it did get put back up with a disclaimer on it anyway.

Russ Morman: Oh, alright. So, I sidetracked us a bit there, again one of my superpowers, so we’ve kind of talked about how you got involved in the farm. So, who all in your family is involved with the day-to-day operations, you know, how many folks do you have that work on the farm?

Mark Thomas: So, it’s myself and my dad full-time. My mother, when she’s not at her full-time job, she’ll help move equipment around and she primarily takes care of the sweet corn selling at the farmer’s market, her, and my sister and some of her siblings and my wife will help with that some too. When my wife’s not at her full-time job, she’s the same way she’ll run to get parts or she’ll help move the stuff around and feed cows if she needs to, or help do whatever to fill in.

I’ve got an uncle that just retired from his full-time job, and he helps drive truck and helps fill in as needed. So as far as full-time on the farm, it’s just me and my dad. And then we have some part-time seasonal help. That’ll help get the crop in and out and stuff like that.

Russ Morman: Yep. Sounds absolutely normal.

Mark Thomas: True family farm. Everybody’s got their job.

Russ Morman: Alright. So, if I didn’t know anything about farming and I came and stopped by and just said, “Hey, what’s your role on the farm?” How would you explain your role?

Mark Thomas: I’m kind of the jack of all trades and master of none.

Russ Morman: Oh, totally get that.

Mark Thomas 6:26: My dad and I both kind of just fill in and do what needs to be done. We have two corn planters, so we both plant. I do all the spraying, I do all the taking care of the application and figuring out what we need, where we need it, get all that done. In the fall, he primarily runs the combine and I’ll run the grain cart, when I don’t need to be running trucks. So, primarily running trucks in the fall, as well as just kind of doing everything else that needs to be done. When hay has got to be done, we both just jump in and go.

We farm together, but we farm separately. You know, we farm together as a whole, but he’s financially involved in his acres, and I’m financially involved in mine.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: We don’t necessarily have anything together, but we jump in and do it together. It seems to get things done easier. That way, we can run bigger equipment, we can run nicer equipment, we can buy things in bulk, a little size discount there. When you put our operation together, we’re larger than average size, for here. So, it helps a lot in purchasing and even selling, really, because we can put together and fill a larger contract sometimes.


Russ Morman 7:32: That makes sense. Sidetrack you for just a second, I heard you mentioned that you run the grain cart. My family was fortunate enough to be able to prototype CartACE. Did I hear you say that you used CartACE last fall?

Mark Thomas: We did. We had CartACE last fall for the first time and actually, was our first experience with running Ag Leader Yield Monitoring in the combine. Prior to that, we had just run what was in Case combines. But we actually had the the 1200 InCommand in there and now I won’t run one without it. It was that much better. And I’d always talked about doing it, but we just never did, but having CartACE where they can talk to each other.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: It’s a game changer.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas: It’s one less thing to worry about. You can just hit the auto steer button; it’ll steer it and line it up where it needs to be. You just move your speed, keep that right. You can know when the combine’s full, you can know which way he’s going. If he’s in the back corner of the field, you know, if you need to go around the front side of the corn or the back side of the corn, it’s just an absolute game changer for running a grain cart. It really is.

Russ Morman 8:37: Yeah. I couldn’t believe, you know, between CartACE and AgFiniti being able to see where the truck is at, knowing where the grain cart is at, knowing where the combine is at and if you’re just somebody bringing a part or bringing supper to the field, you know where everybody is at. It’s kind of neat like that.

Mark Thomas: CartACE is another one of those things, to me that I wouldn’t have initially thought, well, that’s going to be valuable.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: But again, it’s something else that I wouldn’t want to be without.


Russ Morman 9:02: Yep. Completely understand that. I remember you talking about some of your early videos that took off, the one where you and your wife were talking about you both owned the truck and you both own that and now you both own a tractor. So, a little background for, again, for those folks who might not be a hundred percent familiar with this, how did you start doing TikTok videos?

Mark Thomas: So, it started out as there was some guys arguing over combines and what combine was the best. And John Deere came out with this x9 combine, supposed to be the best thing in the world. And they were talking about how it so much better than everything else and how you put letters and numbers and everything. So, I just kind of commented and tagged them and said there’s one combine company that’s never had to put letters in their name. And pointed out my 7240 Case combine. I think that video got 20 or 30,000 views and it was wow. Well maybe this is easier than I thought. So, I just started throwing stuff together, sharing what we do on the farm, funny things that happen that somebody else might see and think is funny or take a situation that’s not necessarily funny and put a little funny twist on it.

You know, one thing was, I was on the phone with my banker, and they were questioning my yield number. I put down like 317 bushels, so that’s way above your APH. And I said, well, you know, I’m trying all this other stuff that’s supposed to give me two bushel and we’re wide dropping and we got all this stuff that’s going to give me 20 bushel, when you add it all up it adds up to 317 and just stuff like that, that’s kind of the niche that we have, I guess, that, you know, viewers want to see.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas 10:43: And we really took off with followers and, you know, FarmTok has just gotten so big. There’s so many people on it. And I’m not going to say everybody’s doing the same thing, everybody’s operation is different. You know if we can share something that somebody will want to see that’ll work. Like this week, we’re irrigating sweet corn with a traveling gun and people want to see that you know, kind of how it works. The things you might be sharing, might not necessarily be what they want to see but they might see something in your video and go, “Hey, tell us about that.”

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: And you go down a rabbit hole sharing what’s going on, on your farm. But you know, social media has been a blessing to agriculture. I think everybody needs to share their story because, often times in agriculture, we’re playing defense…

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: …you know, them playing offense. And I think stuff like this has allowed us to share that, yes, we are a family farm and there are a lot of family farms out there. Because you hear the word factory farm and corporate farm and…

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: …and that’s not always true. So, by sharing these videos on TikTok and wherever else, I hope they get out to the common public, non-agricultural public and they can see what happens on a farm on a day-to-day basis.

Russ Morman: I know many day-to-day farmers who watch a lot of social media, and they watch other farmers doing farming, you know, and it’s neat. But I also know a few folks who are not in agriculture that watch it as well. And I think that’s a great thing to be able to take something that is really, as far as the percentage of the population, is pretty small. And let them know, we’re all just ordinary people, trying to make a living and there’s no cloud of secrecy or anything around farming.

Mark Thomas: That’s right. And with the local food movement, everybody wants to know where their food comes from. And what better way to see where it comes from, than see it on social media.

Russ Morman: I didn’t even think about that part. As you were talking about your sweet corn, that the local food markets and these type of avenues for growers to make additional money, it’s a huge thing. And I imagine being able to see behind the scenes on that is pretty provocative and interesting to a lot of people.

Mark Thomas 12:41: It is. Yeah. You know, people who’ve never seen anything grow other than the grass in their yard, they’re amazed by it.

Russ Morman: I’ve brought people out to the farm or even here to the office where we might be working on some stuff and we’ll come into our training facility and they’ll see a combine there and they’ll be like, man, I have never seen it up this close. I didn’t realize how big they were. And I’m like, yeah, they’re monsters.

Mark Thomas: Yeah, especially when you meet one on our narrow Kentucky roads.

Russ Morman: Alright, I’m going to sidetrack you again. When I first started at Ag Leader, I started in the Support Department, and we used to come down to Kentucky for wheat harvest in June to train on calibrations. And my first impression was that the dealer we were running around with the little narrow two-lane blacktop roads, he was just hammered down and to this Iowa boy, who’s used to wider gravel roads. That was, that was scary a little bit. I won’t ever forget that. I mean, it definitely made an impression on me.

So TikTok hasn’t been around for years and years and years, but if somebody were to ask you, “Mark, who are your influencers?” Do you have anybody you try to model any of your videos after, anything you’ve seen that’s kind of like, yeah, that works. What would you say helps bring you success on these videos, getting views, and who have you kind of modeled after?

Mark Thomas: So, you kind of have to walk a thin line between truth and lies.

Russ Morman: Fair enough.

Mark Thomas: Because if you tell lies in your videos all the time, you might get a lot of views, but eventually they’re going to catch on.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas: That you’re full of it. And you’re not going to take off. If you tell the truth all the time, you’re going to get genuine views, but you’re not going to pull people in ridiculousness. But, if you kind of walk that line right in the middle to just enough truth that you’re not just blatantly telling them something’s wrong but throwing in a little BS here and there.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas 14:33: To kind of keep them guessing, that’s where it really takes off. I wouldn’t say that I’ve really got anybody that I model after. There wasn’t a huge group of people on TikTok, it seemed like, when I started.

Russ Morman: Mm-hmm.

Mark Thomas: There was a few, you know, Tony Reed blew up and took off. Bushels and Barrels, same way, you know, they were all early, Cody Gayer. All those guys are way bigger accounts than me, but basically do the same thing that I do. They’re farmers just sharing their story and throwing some BS out there to keep it interesting. So that’s kind of what we do, and we do get to showcase some products and even just stuff on our farm that we’ve seen that works or doesn’t work, whether it be a product or a tractor or something that works in the field that we’ve sprayed or put in on the planner. Stuff like that to get to get the shares. That’s kind of the way we go about it.

Russ Morman: Yeah. So part of my job is I get to go out and do a lot of trade shows, conferences, I talk at some grower meetings, I’ve worked 25 years and one of the better parts of what I get to do is just talking, like you said about, hey, how are these things working for you, guys come into the booth and say, yeah, I wouldn’t have ever done this, but I saw it on Mark’s TikTok and I bought this stuff. So, do you get lots of questions? I mean, for me to read all the comments to all your videos would be a full-time job, I think. But, when you do a video on Ag Leader, do you get some guys that are like, oh, I hadn’t thought about doing that, but maybe I should go buy a steering system or a yield monitor or whatever case might be. I mean, how many questions do you get on products that you showcase in your videos?

Mark Thomas 16:09: Several. And I get a lot of comments outside of it. This spring, I did one on SteerCommand.

Russ Morman: Mm-hmm.

Mark Thomas: 7500 SteerCommand and the InCommand 1200 and basically all I did was planting my headlands around the field and I was using SmartPath and then had my AB line and was just switching back and forth with one easy button push. And it was amazing, the amount of people who called, text, whatever. And had either A) never seen that option on Ag Leader display before or running other displays, other brands calling and asking questions about what it’ll do, how easy it is and going man, I wish you’d quit posting videos because you’re making me wish I’d have bought Ag Leader here instead. And I said, well, that’s not necessarily my job, but I mean, we threw Ag Leader in the planter and my dad was able to figure it out and is able to figure it out easy.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas: That’s why we do it. That’s why we use it. I’ve had people call at night and be planting, you know, hey, I’m having this problem, you might know the answer.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: When Tech Support is closed and their dealer might be closed, I can’t always help them, but once in a while, I get lucky and can help them. But the big thing has been the AgFiniti and discipline cash for us.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: This spring, we had a problem and my wife, and I were out actually at my in-laws, and dad was having problem with the planter, and he called me and I said, hold on. So, I went into the Agfiniti app, pulled it up.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas: You know, was able to look at it and see what he was doing. And I couldn’t punch the buttons, but I could tell him what to punch.

Russ Morman: Yeah. That remote support is something else.

Mark Thomas: But everybody’s big question is what it cost. And so, I don’t always know those numbers, but I give a good ballpark. But a lot of people will ask what it can do, why you went with it or whatever. And actually, our first Ag Leader video was just showcasing that you don’t have to buy all these unlocks when you buy an Ag Leader system. Which, thank you all for making it that way. You know, when I buy a 1200, I don’t have to buy a steering unlock and I don’t have to buy an auto swath unlock and if you want to buy subscriptions for your receivers, obviously that’s money well spent, as we’ve found out in the last couple years. But that kind of took off and people couldn’t believe it. That there was a system out there, that you didn’t have to buy all that extra.

Russ Morman 18:31: Yep. I think it might have been the one where you were talking about planting the headlands, you mentioned that you were using Terra StarX for steering. That worked pretty good for you?

Mark Thomas: It did. It worked really well. We had run Wallis for years. And two years ago, I think you all ran a promotion, if you bought the unlock you got a year of TerraStarL or CPRO or whatever fit. And I bought a 7500 that year and unlocked it to CPRO. And it was amazing how much better that was.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: And X was, in my opinion, better than that. It’s a little harder to tell, you know, pass to pass this year. You could tell it, but if we had to go back, it would really shine, and I’m really interested to see what it will do next year.

Russ Morman: You bet.

Mark Thomas: When we go back to that same field and try to plant between the rows, it’ll shift some, but you know, if we can get close and adjust that line, we’ll be good to go again.

Evolution of technology on Mark’s farm

Russ Morman 19:22: Cool. Kind of changed lanes a little bit. I’m fortunate enough to have a 95-year-old grandfather, a lifelong farmer, he is retired now, but he loves electronics. You know, and it’s funny, it must be generational. My mom, not so much. And I’m of course, I love electronics, or I wouldn’t be here, but I remember him telling me 10 or 15 years ago, he says, I sure wish that the stuff that you work with was available when I farmed. He likes to talk about a lot very early electronics in the eighties that they implemented in our family farm. And so, I guess my question to you is, from generation to generation, you said starting out riding in a two-row corn picker or combine, how has technology changed from when you remember getting started to now running a 1200 and SteadySteer and the 7500 and everything?

Mark Thomas 20:10: It’s amazing. Both of my grandfathers passed away in 2001. The one here on the home farm, had retired from farming in ’94.

Russ Morman: Mm-hmm.

Mark Thomas: But stayed around, helped out on the farm wherever needed. You know, he was farming with a two-row planter, two row combine, no cab, no air, no nothing. And if he could see where we’re at today, I’m sure it would just blow his mind. Because we’re planting with a 24-row corn planter that’s fully automatic. It doesn’t drive, it’s hydraulic drive. So, it doesn’t drive off the ground like the old planters did. It steers itself and it cuts off when it overlaps. And we farmed like that for years. We farmed without row shutoffs. We bought our first-row shutoffs in 2011 and at that point we had had an Outback, just a GPS lightbar.

Russ Morman: Mm-hmm.

Mark Thomas: We ran that for years and then bought an Integra 1500 GPS. We bought an OnTrac3 that year and we bought Surestop Clutches. And from that point, it kind of pushed us into the 21st century of what agriculture is today.There’s still a lot of people that farm without technology.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas: I couldn’t imagine doing that now. Just the things that we’ve learned about our fields. Not only the chemical and the fertilizer and the seed that we’ve saved by not over planting, but we’ve been able to look at years and years of yield maps and pinpoint a spot in a field and go, something’s not right there. I don’t know what’s going on. And actually today, it’s funny, I was spraying and there’s a farm that my dad had farmed for 30 years, probably. And a guy had bought part of it. It sold at auction two years ago and he’s building a house on it, and he dug a basement. And I’m spraying and I drive around, dad’s walking around in this basement – what are you doing? And he sends me a picture and he said, no wonder this side of the farm was never any good. And of course, you know, we had an eight-foot-deep wall there.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas: You could just see the soil profile and stuff that we never would’ve seen, but you can always see it on a yield monitor. That strip right through there was never as good as the rest of the farm.

And it tells you that something’s going on down deep.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: We’ve been able to take that and put more fertilizer where it needs to be or less fertilizer same with chemicals. You know, if you got a spot that’s constantly causing a problem, you know, we might need to go in there and, and rip, or maybe it needs some tile or something’s going on there, we can pinpoint that area. Then in my opinion, even a yield monitor, that’s not perfectly calibrated. It’s still a good tool.

Russ Morman: So, we kind of went over, you started out with an Integra, you had clutches, GPS, and that sort of thing. So what Ag Leader equipment are you running currently? What all do you have it on? What are you doing with Ag Leader equipment today?

Mark Thomas 23:01: We have three InCommands and one Integra. Running InCommands in both planters, both planters have SureStop clutches, hydraulic drives, and their seed tube monitoring on them. We move one of those InCommands into the combine and run our harvest through it in the fall.

And, this spring, we had just bought a hydraulic drive spreader, buggy…

Russ Morman: Mm-hmm.

Mark Thomas: …that we’re running a spinner control module on through the Integra. That’s it’s primary job, running on it. We still run OnTrac3 and just got a SteadySteer this year to run and steering and stuff that’s not hydraulic ready. Our two planter tractors are hydraulic steering ready. Run SteerCommand in both of those. They’re both John Deere tractors, but one of them actually has an Ag Leader wheel angle sensor on it.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas: And the other actually run through the can system. It’s new enough that just one little wire plugs in and it just works.

Russ Morman 23:58: You’ve got it on just about everything, at least some sort of technology. So, if you had to go back to the days before any of this, you know, a lot of people say, and depending on what it is, some things are better when they’re simple, but would you ever want to go back to prior to having precision ag of any kind?

Mark Thomas: With what input costs today? No.

Russ Morman: Good point.

Mark Thomas: The way our fields are when we put that system on in 2011, we had rented a big farm ended up being 325 acres. That was what the Integra counted that we had planted, but I still had my KPM3 on my Kinzee at the time.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas: So, it was counting overlap and just on that one farm, we had almost 25 acres of overlap.

Russ Morman: Wow.

Mark Thomas: So just the amount of seed and it’s not just the seed savings over that.

Russ Morman: Mm-hmm.

Mark Thomas: Over the whole farm, but when we’re not overlapping, we’re getting better yields on those ends.

Russ Morman: You don’t, have plants competing with each other so much.

Mark Thomas: Yeah. So, I guess to answer your question, if I had to go back if somebody said that’s the only way you can farm is to go back there and start. Yeah, I’d do it again.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: Knowing what we know now, we’d do some things, if we couldn’t do it, with technology, we’d probably figure out some way to do some of the things that we’re doing now. But I don’t foresee going back away from technology.

Russ Morman: While you were talking, I actually thought of a completely different question. Do you have one or two, totally, “aha” moments? You were talking about how you’d notice on the yield monitor there was a certain area that was bad and then when your dad was noticing that basement where you go, oh, the soil here is not what it ought to be. But has there been one or two things that having technology on the farm was like, oh my gosh, this piece of information that we’ve just learned is really going to help us out, either profitability or cost savings or has there been a story that was like, yep, this is how precision ag is supposed to work?

Mark Thomas 26:05: Well, again the row shut off and cutting off at the end. But seeing it, you always know your basins are better.

Russ Morman: Mm-hmm.

Mark Thomas: And when you fall off in one of those and we have a lot of those, but just amazing how many places in the field that are really carrying your average.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: And 2012 was an amazing example of that because we averaged like 38 bushel of corn that year just, ridiculously bad.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: But you’d go over a hill and be zero and into a basin that’d be making 200 plus. And when you see that, you take those maps, and you look at the other stuff and you start putting a trend together year after year. Those are your good spots.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: Those are spots where you’re making money. So that’s kind of one of those times, like that’s how, you know, really justify it and prove that it’s working.

Russ Morman: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that makes good sense to me.

Mark Thomas: And on top of that as well, another example planters with the advanced seed monitoring. We had one year you’d watch it and it’d come around and it’d show a skip. And it’d come around and it’d show a skip and it’d show a skip. Couldn’t figure out what was going on. Went back there and pulled the meter apart. And a little piece of cob or something was stuck in one of the holes and it wasn’t picking up a seed.

Russ Morman: There you go. Yeah. I love stories like that where if I hadn’t had the monitor, something so simple, it’s just a little piece of debris in the planter or I forgot to adjust something.

I remember several years ago; it was a father and son team and they were splitting duties on the combine. They had one combine and they were looking at a yield map, and you could tell where the, I don’t remember for sure, whether the father had taken over for the son or vice versa. And there was actually a yield change in the combine. It was because they’d made changes to the combine that actually hurt what they were doing. And just simple things like that, because if you’ve got the data live in front of you while you’re thinking about it, while you’re in the combine, while you’re planting, you’re more liable to do something with it than if you’re looking at it six months later, you know, sitting in front of your computer. So having that live data there, it puts it right there when you’re sitting in the cab.

Mark Thomas 28:23: Absolutely. You see that rolling across the screen, this pass made 215, but the next pass the monitor never got over 200.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: Okay. Something’s probably going on here, you know, did I spray different? Did I fertilize different? But you can catch that kind of stuff. It might be the door comes open on the bottom of the clean grain elevator.

Russ Morman: Exactly.

Mark Thomas: Deck plates are too wide or something like that. It’s always easy to find that kind of stuff.

Russ Morman: So, with different types of equipment, different brands, and types of electronics, I don’t know how much experience you’ve had with brands of precision ag that aren’t Ag Leader, but what draws you to keep using Ag Leader? I mean, you’ve got three 1200s in an Integra. It’s obviously something that you enjoy. I’ve heard people say, well, it’s ease of use or it’s the quality of the data or it’s sundry other things. What drives it home to you, Mark, to make you want to keep using Ag Leader equipment?

Mark Thomas 29:16: The quality of products, the ease of use, and just the reliability are three things. Like I said, we bought our first one in ’11 and a short time after that we purchased a planter and ran a different GPS setup at that time and had a mountain of trouble with it. So, we went away from that. That same planner, we put Ag Leader on it, and we did have a little bit of trouble getting everything to talk in the beginning. But never once did Ag Leader support or anybody say, well, that’s their problem, that’s not a problem we can fix. I’ve never been unhappy when I’ve called Tech Support either through my dealer or calling the 1-800 Tech Support number. You know, everybody’s always willing to help and there’s a lot of them out there.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: My dealer is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to it and there’s just a lot of people that have them and there are other displays around here as well. Other brands that people may think are better. But I don’t see us going away from them. Just because, like I said, when we put that first display in, my dad was able to pick it up and go.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: And if we have a problem, I can walk him through it.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas: Over the phone. I can’t necessarily do that with other monitors.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: And we’ve got a dealer, again, that’s able to do that. But there hasn’t been anybody that’s helped us that hasn’t been able to pick that monitor up and be doing things with it that somebody who’s been doing it for 10 or 12 years can do.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: And your platform is basically the same. I mean, you know, from an InSight to a 1200 the same basic platform is there. So, when you learn, it’s there. I did have a few red guys around here complain when you went to the green background on the 1200s.

Russ Morman: Yeah. What are you going to do? Oh my gosh, I didn’t even think about that. That’s funny.

Have you had a chance to use the, the SteadySteer on your Kubota yet? I know you got it calibrated, but have you had a chance to go out and use it yet?

Mark Thomas: We used it one day bush hogging. And we’ve been so dry that we haven’t even done any hay or anything yet. But hoping we get back in the hayfield here in a couple weeks and really get to try it out. And this fall, we’re gonna put it on our fertilizer buggy and spread the fertilizer and some lime. But so far, Impressed. Highly impressed.

I was talking to my county extension agent last night and he runs some Ag Leader stuff and was actually looking at another steering system. And we were comparing OnTrac2 to OnTrac2 Plus to looking at OnTrac3.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas: And well, the three is a lot better than the two I had. And I said, the SteadySteer is amazing. How, if you didn’t know it was an assisted steering, you’d think it was a hydraulic steering. I mean, it’s amazing how fast that thing responds.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas: So really excited to get it in the field and test it at some higher speeds.

Russ Morman: Yeah. We had the same experience. We ran all the way up through the OnTracs and into SteadySteer. And I remember a few of the testing folks talking about how exponentially better it was than the previous products. It’s like, well, geez, the OnTrac3 wasn’t terrible. And then you run that SteadySteer and it’s amazing how good it is.

Favorite Ag Leader product

Russ Morman 32:36: So, what’s your favorite Ag Leader product? Whether it be the display, AgFiniti, I think from talking and listening to you, I was going to guess it might be AgFiniti just with all the things it gets you to do, but what’s your favorite Ag Leader product?

Mark Thomas: I’m going to throw you a curve ball. I’m going to go with Surestop clutches. When we bought that stuff originally, we looked at air clutches and the SureStop had just come out.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas: And we ran them, we put them on that planter, and I ran them for 11 seasons and never once had a problem. We’ve had other clutches that have not worked, so that’s probably one of my favorite products that I’m running on the farm currently. Yeah, just for ease of it working.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: Of course, pair that with a 1200. I mean, the 1200s hard to beat as well.

Russ Morman: Well, that’s true. We still sell quite a few clutches because everybody’s at a different level where they want to be in precision ag, there’s not one thing that’s going to fit everybody and that’s absolutely fine. You’ve got your full on 1200, SureSpeed, DownForce guys and you’ve got guys that just want to do shutoffs. And we actually took the SureStops out of the product catalog for a year, the next year it was right back in there again. They’re bulletproof and it’s a simple, little thing that has just really changed things. And you’re right, it was a curve ball, but it makes perfect sense why that would be a favorite of yours.

Mark Thomas: And actually, if somebody asked my opinion and if I was starting out from scratch of a ground drive planner and wanting to upgrade to clutches or whatever, I would almost skip the clutch and go straight to the SureDrive. Just because when you figure in the clutches and the harnessing and everything, you’re at least halfway to the SureDrive cost.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas34:09: So, get rid of your chains, get rid of all that stuff to go that step. So, if I was starting a planter from scratch, that’s where I’d go over that SureStop. But, you know, my dealer has sold probably close to a thousand of them.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: And he said, everybody asks him, how many do you have in stock? He said, none. They just, knock on wood, don’t have any problems with them.

Russ Morman: Yeah, you know, you were talking about SureDrive and if I remember right, most of your fields are about 25 acres. You’ve got lots of out croppings and I’m gonna guess those 25-acre fields are not square, from what I know about Kentucky. So, I can definitely see where SureDrives, whether it be the fact they shut off, whether it be the turn compensation, any of that stuff is probably a pretty big deal for you guys.

Mark Thomas: Absolutely. Because you got some fields that there’s no straight side to plant a straight side. You plant them on a curve. And, you know, a 24-row planter when you get going around a curve, you get some plants pretty close together and some plants pretty far spaced out on the other side.

How precision ag and farming go hand-in-hand

Russ Morman 35:20: Gotcha. Yeah. Shifting gears, again, a little bit. I was fortunate enough to get involved with some of our product testing for SureSpeed in Texas. And one of our cooperators down there said something to me that I knew was true and I’ve heard you say it on a lot of your TikTok videos. And that was how precision ag efficiency has allowed you to spend more time with your family. And as somebody who talks about and promotes Ag Leader, I really liked that, but I was amazed that I hadn’t thought of that myself. And it’s just so simple. Unpack that a little bit. If you don’t mind. Precision ag and family how do those kind of go hand in hand?

Mark Thomas Well, you know, if something happens to us tomorrow, somebody’s still going to plant the crop. You know, we got a crop in the field, somebody’s going to harvest that crop. Somebody’s going to get it in the bin, whatever else, the farm doesn’t care, who’s taking care of it. But our families are what’s, you know, going to miss us when we’re gone. And so, we’ve got an almost two-year-old daughter and I’m just as guilty of as anybody of working and missing nights at home or whatever with her. And, you know, my wife’s, saying, you don’t get this time back, you don’t get this time back.

Russ Morman: That’s right.

Mark Thomas: And she’s a hundred percent right. But being able to go to the field and things work and be able to get it done quicker and more efficiently, gives us time to get home. You know, even this spring, when we were behind, you could take a break and come home and see the family for bedtime. And then you could go back at night because you knew where your line was because the technology saved where it was. And you’re not as scared to run at night because with the AgFiniti and in the cab running, you have an aerial map on the background of that 1200.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas 37:14: So even something you might not see at night might show up on an aerial map, like, hold on there’s a hole maybe coming up here that I might not see. But efficiency of getting things done, you know, if you got a field that’s gonna take 10 bags of seed and you take 10 bags there, you don’t run out half a bag early.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: You can get it done and move on to the next or move on home or whatever it takes.

Russ Morman: Yeah. I mean, after you’ve used autosteer, you realize your shoulders aren’t as tight, you know, that those are all pretty straightforward, you know, but it was funny, something as simple as spending time with your family and not being as stressed out, that’s a pretty big deal.

Mark Thomas 37:50: You know, on your auto steer comment, you’re a hundred percent right. Because even if you go out early in the morning and say, you put in a 12-hour day and you get home at six o’clock or 6:30. You’ve been out all day, just dog tired from working and steering your arms. And you’re just exhausted and don’t want to do anything. You sit in the chair, and you can’t get down on the floor and, you know, play Barbie dolls or whatever.

So that that kind of stuff is the advantage. Of course, SureSpeed you know, in Kentucky our fields, can’t really get up to 12 mile an hour. Between here and the end of the field, but any time you can spend less time in that tractor and doing things that really matter.

Discussing Mark’s popular Ag Leader TikTok videos

Russ Morman 38:31: Yeah. Agreed. So, I was curious, do you know, off the top of your head, that have had Ag Leader products in, which ones have gotten the most likes or comments?

Mark Thomas: I think the biggest one so far is one I did last year, talking about the SureStop clutches. I just played it off, like a neighbor called me to plant and I took extra seed back to him. Because he said, what? You didn’t plant enough. Yeah, I did. We didn’t overlap. And that video really took off and had a lot of comments of people asking what it is or saying, yeah, clutches, you know, save us X amount of dollars per year. So that one was really good. And then there was one on AgFiniti that had really good views and comments. Yeah. So those two have been really good.

Russ Morman 39:16: Excellent. Like said, I was binge watching last night and kind of looking at how many views you get on some of your videos, and it’s just so cool to see that interaction. And probably, there’s no real way to know how many of those are actual farmers versus non-farmers. Other than maybe some of the questions they ask but would be interesting to know.

So, I know you like to spend time with your family and that’s something that we all want to do more. So, when you’re not doing TikTok videos, when you’re not active on the farm, what are you doing?

I’ll give you a hint as to what I might like to be doing, I did look up what distilleries were closest to Elizabethtown. So, if that gives you a little hint, maybe I do fancy some good Kentucky bourbon. I like craft beer too, but I tend to stick with Kentucky whiskey.

Mark Thomas: Yeah.

Life outside of farming

Russ Morman 40:58: So, what do you do you’re not farming or making TikTok videos?

Mark Thomas: So, like I said, spend time with family. We keep a small garden here that we spend time out outside, our daughter has a trampoline, you know, watching her on that and playing with her and her swings and whatever else. I’ve got a small bourbon collection and I’d call it a small collection of toy tractors. My wife would say that it is not a small collection of toy tractors, but those kinds of things. We’ll kayak some in the summer and we don’t take our bourbon on those trips, but we take a few cold beers. But that kind of stuff. We’re pretty involved in our community, in our Farm Bureau organizations and our commodity groups. So, we’ll spend a lot of time at conventions and meetings. Meeting with legislators to keep progressing agriculture forward.

You know, we’ve got to give back a little bit to keep the industry what we want it to be. You know, we can’t always get what we want when it comes to legislation and things like that. But if we can give a little and they can give a little, we can all get something we can live with.

So, what’s your favorite Kentucky bourbon?

Russ Morman 40:57: Oh, you know, for something that’s not terribly expensive, Buffalo Trace. If I’m only going to have one, Booker’s. 126 proof is not a session drinking bourbon. I can’t remember if Long Branch is a Kentucky or Tennessee.

Mark Thomas: Long Branch might be a Tennessee. I’m not sure. That might be a Jack Daniels product.

Russ Morman: Yeah, no, it’s Wild Turkey. I mean, I was trying to remember where that distillery was at, and I couldn’t remember up top of my head.

Mark Thomas: Well, Turkey’s Kentucky, I’d say it probably is made there in Versailles.

Russ Morman: So yeah, I mean, you know, when I can find her Henry McKenna’s not a bad one either, but yeah.

Some people collect tractors, some people collect bourbon, some people collect hand rolled cigars. So, you know, there’s that as well. I don’t want to take up your entire day here. This is actually a lot of fun.

One thing that I’ve heard you mention a lot, also, that you said it very, very well, and that is the mindset of a lot of today’s farmers are more acres, more acres, more acres. I got to get more. I got to cover more ground. And you don’t have necessarily that mindset. Would you explain that?

Mark Thomas 42:02: It seems like everybody’s, you got to get bigger to survive, you got to get bigger to survive. Which is, in a way, true. But you really got to be more efficient. Right after I graduated college, I was in a meeting and one of the presenters made the comment of it’s about dollars in the bank, not bushels in the bin.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: And you know from that point, really kind of stuck with me. And we’ve farmed bigger than we’ve farmed now, before, we’ve farmed smaller.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas: We’re really comfortable with the size we are, because we don’t feel like we’re pushed too much to get things done. But we’re blessed with a lot of young farmers here in our county and if everybody tries to get bigger, there’s not gonna be enough room for everybody.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mark Thomas: Because we are a growing small, metropolitan area. Ford Motor Company just announced a twin battery plant, for their new electric vehicles, about five miles south of me, about a 1500-acre site. So that was about 1500 acres of row crops that is no longer in production. As well as houses coming in on top of that, other businesses. So, each year we’re losing more and more farmland. So, if we can be efficient at what we’ve got and be comfortable and continue to make money and survive to me that’s what’s most important. Because as farmland gets more scarce, we got to be better at what we do.

You know, in the last 50 years we’ve increased our yields. You know, how much more can we increase it between now and by the time that I retire someday? You know, my grandfather raised a family on 200 acres, five girls and a wife that didn’t work. And you couldn’t even think about doing that now.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mark Thomas 43:50: You know, things have changed, but you know we live as good of a life or better than what they did by today’s standards. By being efficient and taking care of the land and taking care of our animals and just doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

Russ Morman: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. It’s, like I said, it’s about money in the bank. If you’re profitable, as much as I love agriculture and all the things that go with it, at the end of the day, you have got to put food on the table, but at the same time, you don’t want to get home and only be there for a few hours a day. So, it’s a good balance. And I think you’ve found that. And I hope that as far as those efficiencies go, that precision ag and specifically Ag Leader is able to play at least a small part in that I hope that that continues to be good for you. And as like I said, as we wind down, goodness gracious, apparently you and I are good long-winded together, maybe we will have to sit and have a drink here. So as we wind down here, Mark, I want to thank you for spending some time with me today. You know, we’re releasing these as part of our 30-year anniversary and I’m hoping that we’re able to keep doing this.

If folks want to follow you on TikTok or social media, how do they find you on the worldwide web?

Mark Thomas: So, on TikTok Thomas Farms. On Instagram, Thomas Farms, KY. Mark Thomas on Twitter. So that’s my three places where I can be found.

Russ Morman: Excellent, and anybody that might be looking for some really fun videos that are informative on ag, I can’t stress enough. Go check him out, it’s really good. So again, Mark, I just want to say thank you and keep up the good work. You’re not only being a voice for agriculture in general, but as far as Ag Leader’s concerned, you’re definitely showing people that, there are efficiencies to be had, whether you have new equipment or you’ve got equipment, that’s got a few hours on it. So, it’s, you’re definitely being a good steward to the agriculture community, and I sure appreciate it.

Mark Thomas: Well, thank you for saying that. I told my wife from the beginning, if it ever gets to where it’s not fun anymore, then I’ll quit and go on to something else. And that not only goes to TikTok, but farming and anything else that we’re doing. If I don’t get enjoyment out of anymore, we’re going to move on and find something that we do. But for now I really enjoy sharing our story of agriculture in general, whether it be Ag Leader products or whatever with social media. So far people seem to like it.

Russ Morman: You know, it’s funny. I consider myself so blessed that you know, there are so many people out there that, that don’t get to do what they’re passionate about. That it’s a job. And I don’t have that. I have something that I get up in the morning and I smile. Not every day’s roses, don’t misunderstand, but definitely over the average, it’s a positive and I’ve only ever known agriculture, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Mark Thomas: Well, you said your director of the trade shows. I’ve never not had fun at a trade show.

Russ Morman: It isn’t too bad. I get to go home and climb around on tractors, you know? And then I get to go and travel the US and Canada and talk about tractors and stuff. I mean, I get to play with electronics and it’s a lot of fun. I get to meet a lot of people. I get to hear a lot of stories. So, it’s not something that I ever started out thinking I wanted to do. I got real lucky. I knew I wanted to be an ag because it’s all I really ever wanted to do. Now, in my particular case, I had to make a decision early on. Our operation wasn’t isn’t big enough to sustain my entire family. So, I’m like, you know what, I’ll go to college. I got a degree in agriculture and I’m able to kind of be a supporting part of it. So, I at least at least get to be there.

Mark Thomas: So, from the outside looking in, I’ve been very fortunate over the last two years to have met a lot of people from Ag Leader.

Russ Morman: Mm-hmm.

Mark Thomas: Always knew that Ag Leader was a somewhat small company in the middle of Iowa, but it’s amazing how many people have that same type story that work for Ag Leader. That have a small farm, or you know Brett is one that, you know, small farm on the side and gets to play with corn planters all day at work.

Russ Morman: Yeah, that’s exactly right. We talked a little bit earlier about why you chose Ag Leader. And when I get an opportunity to talk in front of folks, one of the things that generally comes up is like you said, your dad was able to get there and just make it work.

And one of the reasons is because a lot of the guys that design the interface, design the button, pressing all the stuff in the background, use the darn things at home. And I think we are unique in that a lot of the folks that work here, whether it be in engineering, sales support, marketing, they use the stuff, they’re familiar with it. I mean, I’m fortunate enough to be in that same boat. So, I think it only helps the passion on it, but it also helps the product themselves.

Mark Thomas: Absolutely. You can catch stuff that’s wrong. And, at home on the farm, like, well, this would be easier if the button was here or whatever. And it says a lot that you’ve got employees, that are using it and feel confident enough in it, to use it. You know, it’s not like a Pepsi truck driver drinking Coke, you know.

Russ Morman: Yeah, exactly. It also helps when you’re talking with somebody who’s thinking about getting into precision ag. Again, I treat it maybe a little differently than some folks do in that. I try to find out what somebody actually may need and not just what I want them to have.

Mark Thomas: Yeah.

Russ Morman: I mean, I have bourbon bills. I’d like to assume everybody bought the top of everything that we have and five of them. But the truth, of the matter is maybe I’m not doing that grower a favor by selling them that. Maybe they need clutches. Maybe they need something that isn’t this, so it’s fun to be able to relate my experiences with them to figure out what is best going to suit them.

I might sell something to them once, but if I don’t do them a service, that’s all I’m going to get is one sale out of it. And I’d rather have a partnership with that person, to where I’m trusted. I’m lucky to have built that because you can destroy that pretty easy. It takes a while to build trust.

Mark Thomas 49:45: Yes, absolutely. And, and you all have got such a wide product portfolio that you really do have something for everybody, and you can go as basic and build on it from there. You know, it’s very expensive to do everything at one time. But you can start and build from there. And the things that you’re coming out with work with what you’ve got. You know, your InCommand1200, the stuff you’re adding worked with it. There may be a day down the road where you have to do something, and you have to upgrade again. But it’s not like, oh, well, this new thing came out this year, but you got to buy this $10,000 monitor. So, you’ve got a really good a base there to build from.

Russ Morman: Cool. Excellent. Well, I’ll tell you what Mark next time, or when we meet face to face, I’ll buy the first round.

Mark Thomas: Sounds good to me.

Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas

BLT Farms/TikTok Influencer

Russ Morman

Russ Morman



Podcast Episodes