As a seasoned agronomist, Cory Willness has extensive experience with agricultural retail, consulting, and precision agriculture technology. When precision agriculture was introduced in the late 90’s, Willness’s passion for it grew, including his focus on soil mapping. “Fields are all vastly different in productivity due to water availability, soil type variability, and topographic position so why are we treating it all the same?” he asks.
There was also a huge technology gap to fill the needs of the soil mapping process, so he joined with developer Derek Massey and they created Croptimistic.
The Croptimistic team has deep roots in Saskatchewan and plans to keep growing their company within the agtech ecosystem that is currently heating up in the province. “The agriculture culture is great here, and we’re fortunate to be collaborating with a lot of great people,” Willness smiles.
The pair hired a team and developed the SWAT MAPS ecosystem. SWAT MAPS, stands for soil, water, and topography and is a mapping process that creates high-definition zone maps of soil potential. SWAT mapping is a multi-step process that includes data collection, layer development, ground-truthing, soil sampling, variable-rate reports, controller prescriptions, post-seeding and pre-harvest assessments.
“Data collection is time-consuming and expensive,” Willness shares, “so Croptimistic’s goal is to scale all of the steps to make it quick and easy to implement”. SWAT MAPS lays the foundation of all variable-rate fertilizer and seed applications so growers can better understand field variability to optimize their profitability and environmental sustainability.
SWAT MAPS is part of an entire SWAT ecosystem, which includes their SWAT BOX hardware and SWAT RECORDS software. “Soil attributes are captured with our hardware and our map building module utilizes the components like water, how nutrients are moving, and anything related to topography to create multiple layers on the final map,” Willness explains. SWAT BOX works autonomously with no operator needed and can be mounted to equipment or vehicles. All collected data goes directly to the Cloud. From there, the SWAT MAPS module streamlines the steps in the process of creating the map.
SWAT RECORDS runs the entire ecosystem by synchronizing all data between users and software platforms, hosting all information related to the variable-rate fertilizer and seed program. “Originally the map generation process took hours with a lot of data handling and using multiple software programs to build the layers and maps. Now it takes twenty minutes of user interaction, with better quality of maps and massive efficiencies with our data streaming,” Willness adds. The objective is to further automate this process to eliminate human interaction wherever possible.
SWAT CAM is a product in beta release stage and has been developed alongside a University of Regina machine learning team. Two cameras are mounted on a sprayer which capture agricultural crop and weed populations and provide valuable information on establishment issues on the various soil zones of the field. They are leveraging Innovation Saskatchewan on this initiative through the Agtech Growth Fund. They recently received $300,000 to develop the SWAT CAM. Croptimistic is also a Saskatchewan Technology Startup Incentive (STSI) eligible company. They are also working with PAMI and the University of Saskatchewan on an automated soil sampling project to develop improved carbon and nutrient measurement technologies.
Croptimistic is only the second company in Co.Labs history to graduate from the Co.Lead program. They graduated in June of 2021. Through their time at Co.Labs, they were able to learn and grow as a company, which led to completing the largest fundraise coming out of the Co.Lead program. In June 2021, Croptimistic announced a $3.5M in Series A investment from Forage Capital Partners in addition to $1.7M in funding raised. The raise is a first done by a Co.Labs company.
“We have the pleasure of working with great people on our team and throughout the province to get these innovative things done,” Willness explains. “The agriculture environment, culture, expertise and collaboration in our province has allowed our team to work on projects that we could not work on anywhere else.”
Croptimistic Technology Inc.
Founders: Derek Massey, Cory and Shannon Willness
Incorporation Date: 2014 (operational 2018)