Croptimistic Technology Inc. CEO, Cory Willness, shares a trait common to many AgTech entrepreneurs: a deep connection to the land. In the case of this University of Saskatchewan-trained (Class of 1996) professional agronomist, the existential link born on the family farm has long manifested itself in a desire to solve problems for farmers. That, in turn, holds the key to why Cory transitioned from early work in sales to precision agronomy research before eventually founding CropPro Consulting, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. In 2018, sensing a gap in the tools available to producers, he, his wife, Shannon, and their partner, Derek Massey, co-founded Croptimistic, a precision agriculture business that develops soil, water, and topography (SWAT) MAPS. They have prospered, boasting 75 employees (and growing) with a range of expertise working out of offices across the Canadian Prairies.

Croptimistic’s CAAIN-supported project, Automation and Scalability of SWAT MAPS to Advance Canadian Agriculture, is about improving the company’s proprietary technology. SWAT MAPS are a digital tool integrating a suite of soil layer properties, including information on everything from electrical conductivity to water flow paths and topographic elements. Cory explains it this way. “Information on individual field properties has some value but far less than when many different attributes are turned into a single map that is useful both to farmers and agronomists. It’s kind of like how the parts of a sandwich—the ham, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and condiments—are better when they’re all together between slices of bread than if they’re lying separately on different plates.” The aggregated data guides crop producers, allowing them to apply more precisely the proper concentration of inputs, such as seed or fertilizer, in the right place. The resulting efficiency can reduce costs and increase productivity.

The technology is complex and multi-faceted. For example, in addition to its patented SWAT BOX—an autonomous soil mapping hardware system that collects the data needed to create SWAT MAPS—Croptimistic has introduced a machine learning-based SWAT CAM that is mounted to a sprayer and captures images every 50‑to‑70 feet. These then upload automatically to SWAT RECORDS, which analyzes the results and generates maps summarizing early season crop establishment and weed pressure by SWAT zone. This integration of features—dubbed the SWAT Ecosystem—has allowed Cory effectively to franchise his operation. Instead of going out and selling services directly to producers, his team works through a network of agronomy consultants like his own firm, CropPro. They purchase Croptimistic’s hardware and software, are trained on its implementation, and then go to their farmer clients offering an integrated suite of precision agriculture tools. In addition to 57 such partners, the company deals directly with 10 “associate farms,” operations with the size and sophistication to employ in-house agronomists. It’s worth noting that despite growing primarily through referrals and word of mouth, the SWAT Ecosystem is in use across Canada, as well as in the US, Australia, and South Africa.

When asked how CAAIN support has benefited his business, Cory explains, “The funding has allowed us to work with post-secondary institutions on four significant research projects that are really advancing our technology. At the University of Saskatchewan, we have a couple on the go focusing on soil analysis and mapping. The U of Regina is engaged in fine-tuning the machine learning needed for the SWAT CAM.” He pauses before finishing his thought. “And UPEI scientists are also doing great work with the camera machine learning system, though their efforts are geared to recognizing potato and corn rather than the grains being studied out West. What that’s meant in business terms is that in a short period of time we’ve gone from a prototype to commercially viable advanced AgTech and orders for 100 units. That would have been impossible without CAAIN’s funding and encouragement.”

“In addition to the research initiatives,” he continues, “We’re collaborating with some sites of the Pan-Canadian Smart Farm Network (a CAAIN-funded project), and this summer we paid producers $1,000 to allow us to conduct SWAT Ecosystem trials on their farms. We’re getting a lot of mileage out of CAAIN, and we really appreciate their support.”

Cory concludes with a final thought. “I guess what it comes down to is family. Shannon and I have three kids and a granddaughter. We want to do our bit to ensure their future is sustainable. If we can help farms across Canada and around the world reduce inputs and increase yields, then that’ll be our contribution.”

CAAIN Contribution

Total Project Value

Project Contact
Cory Willness
Chief Executive Officer
Croptimistic Technology Inc.