Croptimistic Technology Inc. CEO, Cory Willness, shares a trait common to many AgTech entrepreneurs: a deep connection to the land. He grew up on the family farm before graduating from the University of Saskatchewan in 1996 and becoming an agronomist. After a few years in sales, he transitioned to precision agronomy research, then founded CropPro Consulting in 2003.In 2018, sensing a gap in the tools available to producers, Willness, his wife, Shannon, and their partner, Derek Massey, co-founded Croptimistic, a precision agriculture business that develops soil, water and topography (SWAT) maps. Their growing workforce already has 75 employees with a wide range of expertise in working out of offices across the prairies.The Canadian Agri-Food Automation and Intelligence Network (CAAIN) gave Croptimistic $1,101,121 for a $4,739,549 tech advancement project entitled, Automation and Scalability of SWAT MAPS to Advance Canadian Agriculture.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. The aggregated data allows producers to more precisely apply the proper concentration of inputs, such as seed or fertilizer, in the right place. The result is lower costs and more productivity, as Willness explains.“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," he said. "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.” In addition to the 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. Willness calls this integration of features the SWAT Ecosystem.The end product has allowed Willness to effectively franchise his operation. Instead of going out and selling services directly to producers, his team works through a network of agronomy consultants such as 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.The company now has 57 such partners and also deals directly with ten 'associate farms' each with enough size and sophistication to employ in-house agronomists. The SWAT Ecosystem is in use across Canada, the US, Australia and South Africa.Willness said he got “a lot of mileage” out of the CAAIN grant and participation by Canadian universities.“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 said.At the University of Prince Edward Island, scientists are training the camera machine learning system to recognize potato and corn rather than grain as in the 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,” Willness said.Willness has also tapped into another CAAIN-sponsored initiative, the Canadian Smart Farm Network. They paid producers there $1,000 to conduct SWAT Ecosystem trials on their farms.Darrell Petras, CEO of CAAIN called Willness’ tech “potentially ground-breaking.”“I wish I’d had access to this kind of technology when I was farming. Having detailed, integrated soil data at your fingertips is a game-changer capable of advancing precision agriculture in ways that were unimaginable 20 years ago.”Despite all this advanced tech, Willness believes he is simply doing his part to continue a way of life practiced for generations.“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,” he said.