[Podcast] Revolutionizing Planting with Clean Seed Capital’s Colin Rush, Part 1

2022-03-12 06:00:59 By : Ms. Lily Bu

“The SMART Seeder is essentially a one-row, five-product independent variable seeder and planter. We can make that scalable, whether it's 1 row or 50 rows, because we have the technology to deliver that product over top of those rows on demand.” — Colin Rush, Chief Operating Officer, Clean Seed Capital

Canadian agriculture techology company Clean Seed Capital aims to revolutionize planting with its SMART Seeder MAX, a 60-row planter described as an inkjet printer for the field.

The no-till planter allows the operator to control up to 5 independent products as well as 6 in-ground placement options per row, providing prescription input accuracy on an almost plant-by-plant level. The company expects the 2023 production run to sell out by mid-summer, as its customers seek more sustainable and precise planting solutions.

In this episode of the Precision Farming Dealer podcast, we bring you the first installment of our two-part series with Colin Rush, Clean Seed’s chief operating officer. In part one, Colin introduces the SMART Seeder MAX, explains how the company is choosing dealer partners and outlines the sales strategy for this new precision technology.

Click here to listen to part two of this series

I'm Michaela Paukner, associate editor of Precision Farming Dealer. Welcome to the latest episode of the Precision Farming Dealer podcast. New episodes of this series are available wherever you get your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe to get an alert when upcoming episodes are released. Canadian egg tech company, Clean Seed Capital aims to revolutionize planting with its Smart Seeder max, a 60 row planter described as an inkjet printer for the field. The no-till planter allows the operator to control up to five independent products as well as six in-ground placement options per row, providing prescription input accuracy on an almost plant by plant level. In part one of our two part series with Colin Rush, Clean Seeds Chief Operating Officer, Colin introduces the Smart Seeder Max, explains how the company is choosing dealer partners and outlines the sales strategy for this new precision technology.

My name's Colin Rush. I'm the Chief Operating Officer for Clean Seed agriculture technologies. And we are the makers of the world's first smart seeder, known as the Smart Seeder Max. It's a very different and revolutionary planting and seeding technology that does a lot of different changes in the way we interact with the ground. We are a true no-till, one pass machine that allows you to put precision seeds down, along with precision metering of dry fertilizer. And we allow you to change where that fertilizer goes in relation to the seed based on your soil conditions, moisture, et cetera.

We also have a very different way of accessing that data to make it actionable, down to a extremely high resolution. So we have up to five different products that you could meter in the field. And we can meter those out of 300 independent control points on our 60 foot machine, allowing you to basically become a giant printer across the field. So we're just bringing this technology as agronomy and the needs to push the agronomy and those yields and cost savings become more and more of a concern for farmers, especially with high input prices. We're seeing just tremendous response here as we enter into our commercialization phase.

Can you describe a little bit more what the Smart Seeder Max looks like and what components are part of it?

Yeah. So the Smart Seeder Max, once you see it, it looks nothing like either the existing planting or air seeding technologies out there. It's best to describe, if people ask me, well, is this an air seeder or is it a planter? And the answer is it's kind of both, and it's neither. It combines the benefits of the air seeding technologies, which is air seeders are very good at covering large amounts of acres per day. They're very efficient that way in terms of getting across the field, getting through relatively no-till conditions. Planters on the other hand are very precise at putting down that seed, those plant stems that we're used to seeing with corn and soybeans. But they really don't put down the growing seeds and fertility.

So the Smart Seeder Max is a front folding toolbar on a single bar. In our current configuration we've got a 60 foot front folding toolbar on 12 inch spacing. And what we do is we actually don't meter at all from a central cart system, which you'd see with strip till, you'll see with air seeding. We have the ability to basically meter up to five independent products over top of the row. So what that looks like is there's actually 300 different electric meters, and these are not DC motors that you'd see in your planters. These are upper motors. So they're very power efficient, they take about 20% of the power of DC motors that would run a lot of the planters that you see in North America. And we essentially become this giant printer across the field.

And we can put everything down from [inaudible 00:04:34], so you're looking at everything from herbicide micronutrients, macronutrients from ounces to 250 pounds per tank at field speed of up to five miles an hour. So we're really taking everything that was good about the planters, which is the precision seeding, coupled with the efficiency of the air seeders. But we're doing it in a much more precise manner on the metering side. On the opener side, because we actually meter over top of the row, we use gravity to move those products down into the furrow. We can actually change where the product goes in relation to the seed. So with a planter seeder, you essentially have where the hose goes, whether you're putting liquid fertilizer out or an air hose, that product's coming out into the furrow where that hose is deployed in the furrow.

We actually have a triple shot opener and we can actually move and direct each product independently out a different port. In fact, we have six different product placements that product can go in the furrow. So, now you have a advantage and kind of an industry first, which is yes, we have metering almost 300 independent seeders, essentially variable rated seeders on a single unit to create that printer. But we could actually also now direct based on cell conditions, whether it's your sand, silt or clay, whether you have a high organic matter, whether what your moisture is. We can actually direct that seed fertilizer distance and ratio to furrow. So we're really putting out, giving people, producers, agronomists and companies the ability to push their agronomy like they've never done before. And that's really the basis of the Smart Seeder Max.

Who do you see as the ideal customer to use the Smart Seeder Max?

Yeah. So we get a lot of those questions to say, what is your target market on here? We certainly started the technology as really a true enhancement, something very disruptive in the air seeder market. And we knew that if we were going go into the US, we needed to get into the singulation market as well. So if you look at really the trend in the US, especially on strip till where customers were not happy with tilling and then either broadcasting or banding fertilizer at high rates, they wanted a more precision. So they're putting the strip till out there, either in the fall or in the spring, and then they're coming back with the planter. But those are two separate operations.

So as you look at the future issues to say, look, we're in a lot of droughts lately where we want to preserve moisture. We want to preserve organic matter, which in turn... That's things like carbon [inaudible 00:07:31], there's carbon credits available for additional sources of income. Anybody that wants to reduce their passes, increase their organic matter, and basically put down all of their growing season fertility needs in the root zone, with a precision place seed and vacuum meter, is somebody that's going to look at this. So anywhere that farmers can reduce fertilizer use, increase their fertilizer efficiency, but still maintain that high precision that they're used to having with a planter, are going to look at this technology. The technology itself is neat because it does row by row. So a smart seeder is essentially a one row, five product independent variable rate seeder and planter. But we can make that scalable, whether it's one row or 50 rows, because we have the technology to deliver that product over top of those rows on demand, and that's what we use air for.

But because we meter everything over top of the row, we can suddenly now do some really neat things. So we can actually shut off every other row. So if you want to do variable rate, if you wanted to go from a 12 inch with a four inch paired row grain seeding, like you'd want in your cereals, to oh I want to do a 36 inch row of corn, all we would do is lock up every two rows. If you wanted to do true cover cropping in a single pass, and basically put whether it's soybeans and a cereal between it, to again, preserve that moisture and build that organic matter. We can certainly do that. If you're a seed grower that wanted to have male and female plants, and they wanted to alternate or have 10 male plants and 10 female plants. Again, these are all capabilities inherently built into the Smart Seeder Max, because we meter over top of the row. Again like that giant printer concept.

It sounds like there's a lot of capabilities for people to test different configurations of crops. I'm curious what the people who have run these already, what they've decided to do with the ability to do that variable rate by row.

Yeah. So the first thing is the agronomists are very excited. To date there really hasn't been a lot of advancements in planting and seeding technology to really push agronomy down beyond that 10 foot level. Which is considered that more, that high resolution prescription mapping to say, as you look out across the soil zone whether it's a half mile by half mile field, there might be as many as 11 different soil zones. And in that they'd have polygons that would be 10 foot square. So what this allows you to do is get down to almost a plant by plant level type of environment. So seed is definitely half the equation, putting that precision seed. And we've known that for planters for years, every time we can space those plants out it gives... And apart at the perfect depth, at the perfect packing pressure, we know that's going to give us our best yield opportunity.

But the half of that has been missing in order to push those yields out there at the least cost, which is putting fertility in conjunction with that precision planning seed essentially in the root zone. So that's going to do everything from reduce costs on your overall fertilizer costs with everything like row by row shutoff turn compensation. But it's also going to give you the best yield opportunities at your lowest cost. So as we go into it, where if you look fertility, you go back 12 months ago, guys are buying... Whether it was in Hydris or Urea, at three to $400 a ton. And now we're double and even more than double that here. People are looking to say, well, do I cut back on fertilizer or do I just get more efficient? So if you get a machine that can replace several machines, whether it's a fertilizer bar, a strip till, a different seeder or an investment in a planter that does all of these things, this is essentially a Swiss army tool that allows you to do everything you want it to do agronomically.

This is where people really see the value of Smart Seeder. As for the people who have operated it. We have everybody from guys growing canola, guys growing that switch out between corn and soybeans and grains, people that want to do true inter cropping, where they want to put down three commercial crops and take them all off commercially. People that want to do in ground soil amendments, instead of liming a field, our system can do things like maintenance lime in the furrow. And that's the capability of the smart seeder that really air seeders and planters don't have. You're talking about separate operations. At the end of the day if you can reduce those operations, give them a very precise tool and say, whatever you want to seed or plant, we can put both down fertility and the seed in a true no-till pass is pretty incredible. And we've just had tremendous response here.

What kind of data are they getting and what does it allow them to do?

Sure. Obviously, the debate around data, farmers own the data. They own the data that goes into creating that prescription file, whether it's our geoJSON or our shape file on there, the Smart Seeder Max, we have a built in edge computing system on the unit. And I'll give you a number here. If you look at a half mile by half mile field, and you were to have five independent variable rate products that you were going to change every square foot and every row was going to change, that could be up to 1.2 billion changes in a seeder across a half mile field. That's a lot of data. Now, most technologies out there that are in planting and seeding would just meltdown. They just can't handle both the level of input or the level of output. We've built our system around that, that is our base level standard. That uses about 15% of our CPU.

So everything that we import is exactly what you would take from any agronomist, across the world in a shape or geoJSON file. We export that. And then as applied format, we put it into our cloud. They can access and bring that data into any basically platform, whether it's a John Deere operation center, whether it's the climate field view. And we're going to be working this year on setting up APIs to make that even a little bit easier. But the issue is, is if you look at transparency to say, what happened in this square foot not only with my precision seeding rate, but what happened with my fertility rate, we can really dictate that at the level. So actually the data we can take and the data we can output are far in advance, just really looking at what is way more than what's on the market today.

Before we get back to the conversation, I'd like to invite you to the upcoming dealership mind summit in Iowa city, Iowa, July 26th through 27th. This two day dealers only conference offers knowledge pack general sessions, panels, round table discussions, networking, and more. Mark your calendars for July 26th through 27th, and register online at dealershipmindsummit.com. Now let's get back to the conversation as Colin outlines what Clean Seed Capital looks for in its dealer partners.

How can farmers purchase the Smart Seeder Max to start with?

Yeah. So we have just been signing up dealers here because this 2022 or spring 2022 interview was our first commercial year. We've just put a few negatives out in basically a pre-commercial launch for the spring. We signed dealers up here in Canada. We will be bringing out a 48 row 15 inch machine for the US market. Again, to get those guys that want to do 15 inch soybean and 30 inch corn as an option in between. So in the next coming six months here in conjunction with our... We're going to be at the farm progress show this year and launching our 48 row 15, we'll be announcing a lot of dealers here through the Dakotas, Minnesota. And we'll be expanding on that as we grow and get our Smart Seeder Max put out to market here.

So again, we're in the early stages. We've had a number of talks here with equipment dealers all through North America, as well as worldwide. And we'll be going into our first full production year, which will be opening up pricing in March of this year for spring of '23. So if you want to know more, you can go to our website, contact us directly, and we can point to a dealer that we're talking to in your area. That's at SmartSeederMax.com, or you can certainly give them my information and I'd be happy to take their call.

Okay. And how are you choosing the dealers that you currently have in your Canadian network? And then what are some of the criteria that you're going to look for for the US market?

So we're certainly a premium machine. And by premium, we're at the top end of what you'd consider a very high end planter or air seeding equipment in the market. So we're looking at dealers that understand the value proposition, they're used to selling value in their equipment. That it's not just about dollars and cents, it's about the value that it can give to you. So we're usually looking at the premium agriculture equipment dealers out there associated with some of the OEM brands. That being said is we do have some relationships with what we call agronomy partners that are agronomy companies that also want to bring this technology to their customers out there. And what we do is they give us sales leads and essentially we give them a portion of that sale.

So as we look for dealers, we're looking for dealers that understand that value proposition used to selling value on here because again, this is not just a planting and seeding technology or piece of equipment. This is really an agronomic solution that is going to maximize the return for farms. So if people are interested in becoming dealers in certain areas, I encourage them again, to get in touch with us. We're always happy to take their call and to start a conversation with whether the Smart Seeder Max would be a great fit for not only their area, but for their business as well.

And how many of the Smart Seeder Max's have you sold so far?

Yeah. So we've done a limited production run for this spring here. All of them have been sold into Canada. I won't get into the specific numbers here. Again, we are in a competitive thing. But we do have a full production cycle planned here for 2023, which at this point we expect to be sold out here by Midsummer for that.

And are you publicly releasing the cost of it?

So what we'll do is if people want to know the cost of it, we will point them to a dealer in their area and that dealers can provide quotes just like they would do with most other equipment that they purchase today. So again, we are on the premium end of the planter market. So if you look at a 40 year old 15 planter that has all the bells and whistles in the United States, we would be in and around that price range based on the options that the customer looked at for our flagship MAX-S model, which is with our simulation. So again, a premium, but if you look at the value proposition that we bring, really essentially a bit of a deal based on you can consider eliminating operations on your farm. Considering maybe pairing down your equipment, because we do have a piece of equipment that in technology that can do multiple operations that you may be doing in multiple separate passes on your farm today.

And I think that can't be said enough, how much the value of that time savings could be for somebody.

Oh. Oh, certainly. And up in Canada where we develop the technologies a lot of the innovation has come around. We generally had 120 frost free days in Canada, so doing separate operations is usually a non-starter with that. But even as you get into the Midwest and the US where they have that extra month, that extra 30 days, I don't know any farmer out there that says he has a lot of free time. If we can give them financial benefits and also reduce their ability to make passes across the field, certainly it's a win-win for everyone.

Could you tell me a little bit about where the Smart Seeder Max is being manufactured?

Sure. So, what we do is we are an assembler of our technologies. We have a lot of manufacturing partners. We have a manufacturing partner in Fargo, North Dakota. They make our front folding toolbar and our tanks. Our row units here are made in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. And we have an assembly facility here in Saskatoon. So we're the last people that we basically put the units together, gear them up with the options of the customer's order. We're the last ones to touch those units before they go to the customer. Our units are really designed much like a planter to essentially roll off the truck and you can be planting or seeding within that hour timeframe.

We want to make sure that the customer has an outstanding customer experience on that. So we're really an assembler of technology. Our Saskatoon facilities are very much more like an automotive assembly plant with very white, clean floors that we have designed to implement the technology that we've spent really the last 10 years developing and patenting for the Smart Seeder Max. So a different model, that. Then you think of the traditional ag manufacturers for planting and seeding. And we're very proud of us bringing this machine to the market now.

I saw a photo. I think you posted it on Twitter of your white and clean facility. And it is pretty amazing to think that things are being manufactured in this space that's so clean.

It is a very different way to think about things. But if you think about every vehicle that you buy, it has that exact same thing. So we partner with very good manufacturing partners that are good at what they do. Welding, manufacturing, laser cutting, painting, et cetera. And we're really the integrators of the technology to make sure that they deliver that value for our customers. And again, it allows us to do what we do best, which as a technology company to give you that value. And it also grows their business as well as we have long term manufacturing partners that work with us.

Have you or your manufacturing partners been affected by the supply chain issues?

Yeah. I really don't think there's a company on earth that hasn't been affected by supply chain issues. Our story is no different, everything from tires to track assemblies, to hydraulics, to access to computer chips, plastics, et cetera. What it's done is forced us to go out from what has traditionally been more of that six month window where you do forecasting out to really up to 18 months, depending on long lead components here. So what we've done here, as we get into our first full production year for 2023, we're actually coming up with our order program almost four months early in order to give customers that time to put their orders in. So we can forecast and we won't disappoint on getting them those units.

So, an answer is yes, we have. We had some contingency plans we had to execute on to make sure that our customers that have ordered units were taken care of for the spring. But at this point, we believe that our global procurement and production cycle here is robust enough now to handle most hiccups, just like everybody else. And so that's what we're going to intend to do as we grow our business.

And as you're thinking about 2023 and getting these orders and getting the word out to people, what is your sales strategy?

Yeah. So the Smart Seeder Max is a very different way of thinking about planting and seeding. And depending on what a producer grows, there is a bit of an education process to say, what am I losing and what am I potentially gaining by my moving towards a Smart Seeder Max technology. So a lot of our sales strategy is going to be based on demonstration with key producers. It's going to be based on a lot of social media, small snippets of Ted talk type of things of knowing the awareness of what's happening in and around their farm and their local area. Harnessing some of the new income opportunities, everything from carbon credits to regenerative ag type discussions.

So in conjunction with demonstration and really that traditional sales push that you may attribute to the existing kind of... The ag technologies, the low interest type of push. We're really pushing more on the knowledge and the agronomic type of value that you can gain from there. So you're going to see a lot more educational type of sales push. And we expect, and in fact we've seen this, the sales are much more organic then because people are coming to us for a solution to some of the things they're seeing, or they want to do on their farms that they haven't been able to do with equipment limitations in the past.

That's it for today's episode. Be sure to join us for the second half of this conversation, releasing in late February. In part two, Colin talks about Clean Seed Capital's origins in sustainable agriculture and how being a publicly traded company impacts its practices. Your feedback about every episode is always welcome. So leave a comment on our website, send me an email at mpaukner@lessitermedia.com or give me a call at (262) 777-2441 to share your thoughts. From all of us here at Precision Farming Dealer, I'm associate editor Michaela Paukner. Thanks for listening.

Intro Music: Squire Tuck - Rush to the Head Interlude Music: Squire Tuck - Expressing One's Emotions in Public

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