Since launching operations in 2020, the Canadian Agri-Food Automation and Intelligence Network (CAAIN) has invested in 35 agtech projects, each of which is focused on at least one of three pillars: automation and robotics, data-driven decision-making, and validation and demonstration of emerging agricultural technology. One of the more inspiring automation projects is Haggerty AgRobotics’ Feasibility of an Autonomous Solution for Optimized Application of Livestock Manure. CAAIN recently caught up with the project lead, Chuck Baresich, to discuss his team’s work and his hopes for the future of autonomous farm vehicles.

CAAIN: Chuck, thanks for doing this. We appreciate your sitting down with us when you are so busy promoting the value and importance of robotic technology across Canada.

Chuck Baresich: It’s my pleasure. Simply put, we believe agtech is the future of food production, not merely in Canada but around the world.

CAAIN: Well, then, let’s discuss why you believe innovation will play such an important role in agriculture going forward.

CB: We truly do not see an ability for traditional methods to propel agriculture to the next level. The existing model is plateauing and is either barely hanging on or, in some cases, regressing. That’s not going to cut it when we realise the global population is expected to hit 10 billion people. If we can’t meet the nutritional needs of everyone now, how are we going to manage feeding two or three billion more mouths?

CAAIN: How did you and your brother, Justin, go from being raised on the family farm in Bothwell, Ontario, to leading that charge in Canada for the development and adoption of advanced agricultural technologies? We all know that farmers are by their very natures innovative and often tend to be mechanically inclined. But the Baresich Boys have taken it to a whole new level.

CB: There was no master plan. It was really a natural progression. As you said, we’re from the Bothwell area where we farm a couple of thousand acres of mixed crops. I enrolled in Agricultural Business at the University of Guelph, while Justin studied Agricultural and Heavy Equipment Repair at Fanshawe College. Most producers I know need additional incomes beyond their operations, and we were no exception. I spent several years working for Farm Credit Canada, first as a lender, then in business development for the AgExpert platform. That gave me a good grounding in the financial side of things. Then, about 20 years ago, we started our agronomy business, Haggerty Creek.

CAAIN: And that’s when you started looking at technology?

CB: Pretty much. Yeah. It was at about that time that we invested in an early autosteer platform with a GPS-based guidance system that ran off a Palm Pilot. We wanted to use it for precision crop rotation, and even back then we envisaged a future where you could get rid of the driver entirely. Tinkering comes naturally to us. Justin is good on the mechanical side of things, and I’m good with tech. Between us we cover a lot of ground.

CAAIN: How did that evolve to become Haggerty AgRobotics?

CB: In 2019 I heard about the DOT platform being developed by SeedMaster, and I attended a presentation. I came away really impressed. It was the first autonomous system that was set up the way I’d have designed it myself.

CAAIN: What do you mean?

CB: As you guys at CAAIN know, the DOT platform—or Raven Industries’ OMNiPOWER™, as it’s called now—doesn’t pull agricultural tools. Instead, it carries them, which is more efficient and reduces soil compaction. Also, SeedMaster was the first company that allowed me to take a unit home to test drive. At the end of the day, I found it was too cumbersome to deploy with a spreader or a seeder. It just moved too slowly.

But it occurred to us that the speed issue might be beneficial in other applications, particularly spreading liquid manure. So, we did what we always do: talk to our fellow farmers to see if they could recommend a good drag line…

CAAIN: Sorry, Chuck. What’s a drag line?

CB: Using a drag line system to apply manure means literally dragging a hose connected at one end to the source of manure, and at the other to the manure applicator. It’s the most efficient way to spread the manure.

CAAIN: Got it. Thanks.

CB: The most common recommendation of a tool that could be mounted on the DOT platform was a manure spreader developed by Cadman Power Equipment Ltd out of Courtland, Ontario. So far, it’s looking really promising. But we believe there might be other uses appropriate for Ontario-style agriculture. Specifically, we’re looking at planting corn. People often forget that Canadian farms are not some kind of homogenous ecosystem. What works in the huge broad-acre operations out West doesn’t necessarily translate to the smaller linked parcels of land in Southwest Ontario.

CAAIN: That’s an interesting observation. It’s why we at CAAIN are focusing so much effort on developing a nationwide network of smart farms to validate and demonstrate emerging technology like OMNiPOWER™ and your autonomous manure application system.

CB: Absolutely. It’s essential to do real-world testing. I remember an early robotic weeder that was brought over from France. It was totally ill-suited to our soil and agroclimatic conditions. It has to work in our specific geographic location. Look. We want any technology we’re involved in developing to change the game, at least a little bit. It’s not enough to get the bums out of the tractor seat. We believe 2 + 2 must equal 5. What I mean by that is that advances in agtech should move the needle if they’re to be adopted. And I’m tired of seeing farmers bring back technology from other countries. Canada is an agricultural power, and we should be developing our own innovation.

CAAIN: That’s a perfect segue to our next question. What’s the purpose of your agrobotics working group?

CB: It’s all about cooperation and collaboration. Our working group membership is diverse, and includes your colleague, Garson Law, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), and several others, including farmers. We must focus on the ground level so that any technology or process we champion has the support of the people who are going to use it.

CAAIN: That almost makes too much sense.

CB: Right.

CAAIN: So, with all this great stuff going on, why apply to CAAIN for support, and what have we been able to help you do that would not otherwise have been possible?

CB: Well, the first part of your question is easy. Financial institutions, and I know this from my time at FCC, don’t like lending for a theoretical product. We’re not buying a building. We’re trying to improve technology. That’s not attractive for a bank. But CAAIN is just the opposite. Your entire reason for being is to encourage innovation, and your support minimised our exposure, allowing us to keep improving the OMNiPOWER™ interface. We developed a function that automatically controls the speed of the platform according to how much manure is available. We also changed the location of the applicator itself—moving it under the main OMNiPOWER™ platform to make it less likely to get snagged. All our progress would have been more challenging without CAAIN’s support because the risk would have been significantly higher. We were able to continue hiring Mechatronics grads from Western, Waterloo, and Guelph. In two years, we went from two to five to eight, and we expect to hire some technical college grads to bring our staff up to 14 next year. We couldn’t have done it without the funding. Plus, there’s the terrific support we get from Garson and the rest of your team. And last but certainly not least, CAAIN is superbly connected and has opened a lot of doors that might otherwise have remained shut. We really couldn’t do this without you guys.

CAAIN: That’s great to hear, Chuck. We’re so pleased to be able to support such innovation, and we look forward to seeing what comes next. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us.

CB: It’s my pleasure. I was glad to do it.

CAAIN Contribution

Total Project Value

Project Contact
Chuck Baresich
CHB Farms