Podcast 08. Mary Sass - In-Season diagnostics with the Millennial Farm Wife
Updated: Oct 5, 2021
Managing crops in-season is essential for maximizing production. Mary Pat, the Millennial Farm Wife from Sass Family Farms, walks through how their farm makes in season decisions using several different diagnostic tools.
The first tool Mary Pat discusses is Climate Fieldview. This is a simple tool that growers can use for free or buy into more advanced features. For Sass Family Farms, this is where they store all of their data. They can refer back to this data throughout the season to reference hybrid, population, singulation, and more. Climate provides field level rainfall information that the Sasses use to determine which fields are most fit for work. Once in-season imagery is available, this is their go-to tool for targeted scouting. Starting around V2, they rely on this information to point out variability in their fields.
“As we’re out scouting fields, if we want to check on different parts of the field, we go into Climate’s NDVI imagery to look for variability across the fields,” said Mary Pat.
The other diagnostic tool that Mary Pat discusses is tissue sampling. They have Y-Drops on their side-dress toolbar that they later move to their high-boy sprayer to help manage nutrients and feed their crops throughout the season. Tissue testing helps them measure and manage what the crops need.
“We are avid tissue samplers, so some of our fields get tested weekly. Some of them aren't weekly, but we do different parts of the growing season,” she said. “So then, we can determine just how things are progressing along this season and if we need to be looking at putting on more micros or nitrogen.”
To learn more about what Mary Pat and Sass Family Farms are up to and how they manage their row-crops, be sure to follow them on Instagram: @millennialfarmwife.
To hear our full interview, go to Precision Points.
Have you used Climate Fieldview or Tissue Tests? Leave a review here.
Host: Morgan Seger
Guest: Mary Sass from Sass Farms, also known as The Millennial Farm Wife
Morgan Seger (00:22):
Welcome back to Precision Points, an ag tech podcast from precisionagreviews.com. In each episode, we strive to bring you unbiased ag tech information and ideas, and on today's episode, I am joined by Mary Pat Sass from Sass Family Farms. She walks through some of the technology that they use on their farm and how that information helps them make in-season management decisions.
Morgan Seger (00:45):
All right. Welcome back to Precision Points. Today, I am joined by Mary Pat Sass from Sass Family Farms, also known as the Millennial Farm Wife. Mary Pat, welcome to the show.
Mary Pat Sass (00:55):
Hi, Morgan. Thanks for having me.
Morgan Seger (00:57):
I'm so excited to catch up. Before we get into the precision piece of this, would you mind just giving a little bit of your background and tell us a little bit about your farm?
Mary Pat Sass (01:07):
Absolutely. I actually worked with you for quite a few years, and we worked in ag technology together, which is kind of fun. But, I am a dairy farmer's daughter originally, turned crop farmer's wife, and moved down to Illinois. My husband and I farm with his two brothers and his dad, and we are a row crop farm. So, we are mostly corn and soybeans. We have some goats, but those aren't really actually part of the farm. Our animals are all for fun, so we don't raise any beef or anything like that.
Mary Pat Sass (01:43):
I guess that's the main thing...is most of our land is in northern Illinois, and it's kind of interesting, actually. My husband's parents had three sons, and all three of them are back at the farm working together; so, it's a really fun dynamic to see them grow and manage the farm together.
Morgan Seger (02:02):
Yeah. That's awesome that they were all able to come back, and I'm sure it makes for really interesting conversations, especially when it comes to decision making. Do they kind of like divide and conquer based on a specialty, or do they all work together?
Mary Pat Sass (02:13):
Yes so, they do have their specialties depending on the season; but yeah, each one of them kind of has their niche, and they do make decisions on their own fields separately. But everybody kind of has their specialty, like my husband plants the corn, and now, he's side dressing the corn. He does other things during different times of the year, but right now, that's what he was doing.
Morgan Seger (02:35):
Sure. Gotcha. When it comes to like equipment and technology, do you have a brand loyalty? Do you guys run a certain color, or do you pick and choose your equipment a certain way?
Mary Pat Sass (02:48):
We're mostly green, I would say, but we did get our first Challenger tractor for tillage this year. But when it comes to technology, I'd say the thing that we've been the most brand loyal to is probably the Precision Planting Technology. They've had that since before I came into the picture; but, they've continued to upgrade as Precision comes out with new stuff, and that's been something they've been super loyal to.
Morgan Seger (03:12):
Gotcha. Now I know, like you said, we did work together, and one of the things that we used a lot were tools that helped us manage in season. And I saw the other day on Instagram, you started to share some of the story of the things you guys do in season. It's for crop diagnostics and making management decisions. Do you mind getting into that a little bit for us?
Mary Pat Sass (03:33):
Sure, so actually I was going to mention that. I should have mentioned this in the brand loyalty thing, too, because we've used Climate for many years, and that's where we keep all of our data. As we're out scouting fields, if we want to check on different parts of the field, we go into Climates NDVI imagery to look for variability across the fields and if there's certain areas that we should be scouting or targeting our scouting efforts. And then, we also use the rest of the data layers within Climate to dig deeper on whether it's hybrid differences or just how the planter performed. How fast were we planting? What was the singulation like at planting? We use all those layers, and we have a down pressure layer or down force from our Delta Force system, too. So, that kind of helps us with different... like, how was the planting depth? We use that for everything, so it shows us a lot of information while we're out there.
Morgan Seger (04:29):
Yeah, for sure. When you're using the in season imagery from Climate, what types of things does it help you find? Or do you have anything like historically that it's really been able to help you with?
Mary Pat Sass (04:40):
Well, for the last couple years, I would say drowned out spots because that's been huge. We can kind of figure out like how big the drowned out spots are and if we should be going in and patching them in or not. Other things, I guess...this would be getting a little bit later [in the] season, but we're able to see if we did some fungicide checks, where those were. Those oftentimes show up on imagery. Those are probably the two big things, but it just pretty much signals us like, hey, you should maybe be checking this area and compare it to this other area because, for some reason, the vegetation's more and that could mean weeds, too. So, it kind of just helps us get where it's not consistent in the field.
Morgan Seger (05:24):
Sure. At what point in the season do you really start looking at those and can you trust the NDVI information that's coming back to you, like representing a growing crop?
Mary Pat Sass (05:34):
Honestly, like pretty early. I mean like stage V2, I would say, you could already start relying on it for sure. It's going to show up if you have bare ground versus the tiny little plants, so we've already used it this season for a few weeks.
Morgan Seger (05:51):
You mentioned using it to check your fungicides. Is a fungicide application something you do on every acre or is that something that you kind of pick and choose, or how do you make that decision?
Mary Pat Sass (06:03):
I'd say it's more of a pick and choose, probably; but, the most time we get picky and choosy about it is when we're doing late season fungicide, like a VTe application because we have it flown on, and that just costs a lot more money. So, we look at different factors like yield potential and what hybrid is out there, and that's kind of what we, the information we, use to decide. And a lot of times we do leave at least a path or something to just see how it responded because, depending on the season, it could respond a lot versus not very much. We do scout as we get closer to that time, too, to see if anything is popping up.
Morgan Seger (06:47):
Okay. And then you guys are spraying your own stuff early. Is that right?
Mary Pat Sass (06:51):
Morgan Seger (06:52):
Mary Pat Sass (06:52):
Morgan Seger (06:54):
I know a lot of growers use Climate. Is there anything specific that you've found like particularly interesting or that has really solved a problem for you?
Mary Pat Sass (07:05):
I don't know if I can think of a specific instance, but I would say that it's just overall been like a good... good diagnostic tool for us to have all that information at our fingertips and know exactly where we're at in the field while we're looking at stuff. Yeah, I guess I couldn't tell you what exactly specific instance.
Morgan Seger (07:27):
How do you use it in conjunction with your drone imagerybecause I know you are flying your fields pretty often, aren't you?
Mary Pat Sass (07:35):
Yeah. Yes. I would say, to be honest, I don't use the imagery a ton with the drone at this time. Once it kind of gets to where we can't get there on foot or with a Gator or something, then the drone comes in more handy for scouting. But if we can get our boots on the ground and get...or trucks or whatever, we try to get out there with our own eyes and see it because the drone doesn't always show what we need to see. But later [in the] season when it's tasseling and all that, and you don't want to walk through the corn and get pollen all over you, it's kind of nicer to use the drone then.
Morgan Seger (08:13):
Mary Pat Sass (08:13):
And at that time with the bigger plants, you can see more, too.
Morgan Seger (08:18):
Mary Pat Sass (08:19):
We don't have the technology on our drone where you can like do stand counts or anything like that. We just have a regular old camera.
Morgan Seger (08:27):
I got you. So, does it give you the like NDVI image or just a regular image?
Mary Pat Sass (08:32):
Morgan Seger (08:33):
Mary Pat Sass (08:34):
So like right now, I pretty much use it to film what the guys are doing and use it for Instagram more than I use it for scouting.
Morgan Seger (08:40):
Yeah. Well, it makes really cool videos though. And I have to think that like they're going to look back and just love having the footage of like the equipment working in the field and then being out there. I think it's so cool.
Mary Pat Sass (08:53):
Thank you. It's fun.
Morgan Seger (08:56):
When it comes to making precision ag decisions, how do you guys evaluate if something's worth making an investment in?
Mary Pat Sass (09:05):
I think some of the biggest factors for us are probably...ease of use is one thing. Like we don't want to have to be on the phone with tech support all the time, trying to figure out how something works. And that's, honestly, probably one of the biggest factors. Precision planting has like a different level of like...That just is the brains of our planting operation pretty much, so everything that's connected to that is like...we're so used to using it. That's another reason why we keep using it. But as far as like what kind of imagery or other technologies that we use, it just has to be really efficient for us, and we have to be able to see the value in it, I guess, when we're using it.
Morgan Seger (09:52):
Yeah. I know we've been talking a lot about this, like ROI doesn't always mean like exact dollars. Lots of times it's just the way you use it. So if it makes things easier, if it makes you feel better at the end of the day, less tired, make you feel like you made a better decision...like all of those things pull some value, so it's kind of interesting to hear how people like work through those value propositions on their own farms.
Mary Pat Sass (10:16):
Right. And one thing I would say too: this is like such a simple feature, like a free feature in Climate is just the rainfall. Like we cover a pretty big distance from field, like our furthest north field, furthest south, east, west, as well. Like if we get the notification that there was an inch of rain on our furthest south field, we're not going to plan to go there to even see if it's going to be fit to plant. That's a value logistically for us that we use throughout a lot of the season.
Morgan Seger (10:44):
Yep. I could definitely see that. And I feel like, and this may just be my perception, but it feels like every year the rains get more and more spotty. So if you are farming over a big area, having that information to know where to go, where not to go, can save a ton of time.
Mary Pat Sass (10:59):
Morgan Seger (11:01):
I know I used to have my grandpa's fields in Climate just to like text him about his rainfall, and he thought it was so cool because I live a couple hours away from him that I knew that. He quit checking me on it because it was pretty accurate.
Mary Pat Sass (11:15):
Oh, that's hilarious. I love that.
Morgan Seger (11:19):
So, what is next for Sass Farms?
Mary Pat Sass (11:22):
Oh, man. I don't know. I guess we're, like this time of year, we're just getting into side dress and spraying and in season management and using all the tools that we have to try and manage the crop through the rest of the year. Yeah, and we're working to share our story, too, so that consumers kind of know what we're doing and why we're doing it. We like to be a voice for agriculture.
Morgan Seger (11:47):
Yeah. Yeah. We appreciate that for sure. When it comes to your side dressing, do you guys do variable rate, or do you do a flat rate application?
Mary Pat Sass (11:57):
For the most part right now, I believe it's flat rate. If they do any prescriptions, they're probably more based [inaudible 00:12:06] ...any fields that they did planting prescriptions on and just adjusted based on plant population. We haven't done any with NDVI yet.
Morgan Seger (12:16):
Mary Pat Sass (12:17):
But, they don't get too variable yet.
Morgan Seger (12:20):
Yeah, sure. I know right now, lots of times it looks the same. And then when you're going into the growing season a little bit further, how are you managing fertility then, like throughout the growing season? Is there anything you do that's different?
Mary Pat Sass (12:33):
We are avid tissue samplers, so some of our fields get tested weekly. Some of them aren't weekly, but we do like [testing] different parts of the growing season. So then, we can determine just how things are progressing along [over the] season and if we need to be looking at putting on more micros or nitrogen, depending on. So, tissue samples...that's another tool in our toolbox.
Morgan Seger (12:56):
Sure, sure. And then do you guys have the ability to come in late and put more on if a tissue test is calling for it? Or what is that I guess...second or third application of nitrogen look like for you?
Mary Pat Sass (13:08):
Yeah, so we have a side dress toolbar with wide drops on it right now, so it doesn't have coulters. It just has wide drops, and then, we move those same wide drops to our high boy sprayer later. So, we're able to get in at like the 12 maybe-ish. That timeframe is probably close to the later application, and the first one we're trying to get on around before V5.
Morgan Seger (13:32):
Okay. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I mean, that's a really key time for trying to get nitrogen on. And then, would you follow that up with another tissue test after you see that? Or is that something, after you make the application, you just let the season ride?
Mary Pat Sass (13:46):
No, we do keep tissue testing through, just to see. And we do have a couple of fields with irrigation that we do fertigate through later for high management. But yeah, some of the fields we tissue test like way past when you would be able to apply, just to keep an eye on how the nutrients are utilized throughout the plant or if we're losing sunlight season or whatever. We just keep tissues sample testing.
Morgan Seger (14:14):
Gotcha. It makes a lot of sense to be collecting the data.
Mary Pat Sass (14:17):
Yep. Yep. And then, we can make plans for the next year.
Morgan Seger (14:21):
Gotcha. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking time and kind of talking through your precision tools. I know Climate is one that a lot of people use, but hearing like real world application of how you guys are using it on the farm is great. So, I appreciate you taking the time today.
Mary Pat Sass (14:35):
Yeah. Thank you so much, Morgan.
Morgan Seger (14:37):
Thanks. Well, it's always fun for me to catch up with Mary Pat, and I hope you enjoyed listening in on what precision tools and technologies they're using on their own farm. As we were wrapping up our conversation, she said that she felt like she didn't answer some of the questions as thoroughly as she hoped because those are things that a brother or someone else handles. And I think that that's the way a lot of operations work today, but she really is doing a great job advocating for agriculture and telling her story. So if you're interested in following along and learning more, you can find them at Millennial Farm Wife on Instagram. And every Tuesday, her husband, Josh, actually takes over their stories and shows you what it's like living day-to-day on their farm.
Morgan Seger (15:18):
For show notes from this episode, you can go to PrecisionAgReviews.com. While you're there, check out our network of grower-sourced reviews and leave a review of your own. If you like what you're hearing on Precision Points, make sure you rate, review, and subscribe to our podcast, so you don't miss an episode. Let's grow together!
Host: Morgan Seger
Morgan Seger spent ten years working with ag retail, specifically in ag tech. She lives and farms in western Ohio, where she has four children with her husband Ben. Morgan, has her own blog called Heart and Soil where she talks about her experience farming, gardening, and raising her family.
Guest: Mary Pat
I’m Mary Pat. Yes, two first names. It’s pretty southern, but I have been a midwest girl my entire life. I’m a dairy farmer’s daughter turned crop farmer’s wife, and now I’m an AgVocate.
I share our farm life and explain what we do and why we do it. My goal is to connect with other farm families and help bridge the gap between consumers and farmers. I’m passionate about inspiring others to share their stories and chase their dreams.