CEO and Founder of AgTech Company Susterre Michael Cully Talks Innovating UltraHigh Pressure Water Jets to Improve Regenerative Farming Practices
“Susterre is pioneering the use of ultra-high pressure water jets in row crop planting applications. [Their] technology promotes regenerative practices like no-till farming and cover crops on a permanent basis, lowers the costs of planting, and adds time to the farmer’s planting window.”
“Susterre’s new technology will enable conservation tillage to realize its full potential by:
- Creating agronomic and cost benefits for farmers currently practicing no-till farming, directly mitigating the current issues associated with no-till farming.
- Providing a lower-cost entry possibility for farmers that have not adopted no-till practices.”
For over one hundred years, farmers have relied on tools and machinery that use tough metals to mix and dig up soil for planting season. This digging process ruins soil in many ways—one of those ways being compacting top soils. Susterre, an agtech company based out of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, believes they have created a technology that will not only push through that soil compaction, but eliminate the need for tilling permanently. I discussed the new water jet planting technology with CEO and Founder of Susterre Michael Cully, and he explained to me how it works, what benefits it will have for farmers, their plans for further research in North Dakota in partnership with Grand Farm, and more!
Formed only a few years ago in 2020, Susterre is quite a new face in the agtech industry. However, despite being a newly-formed company, the prototypes for Susterre’s products have been around for quite some time. CEO Michael Cully explained that originally a smaller company owned the technology that Susterre is now working to perfect. He got involved with the technology because a venture capital fund out of Calgary that sought out agtech opportunities asked him to use his business background to help bring this product to market.
“[The previous company to work on this product] had done about four rounds of prototyping, but they didn’t have the resources to bring it to market. The venture capital fund went out and headhunted for [someone like] me. They found me and asked me if I would be willing to form a new company in order to bring this to market. So that’s what I did. I purchased the intellectual property from the previous company, and in exchange, they own a portion of the company,” Cully said.
Cully’s background in the agriculture industry and in the business sector made him the perfect candidate to take on this new role with Susterre. Prior to founding this company, he held positions at businesses like AGCO Corporation and GROWERS, both prominent ag-focused companies.
“I worked for AGCO Corporation, which is a major manufacturer of farm equipment globally, for 17 years,” Cully said. “I also have a background working for a startup company. So with my ag machinery background and my startup background, they thought it’d be a good opportunity for me to head this company.”
Since Cully started the company, Susterre has made strides toward being able to manufacture products on a larger scale so that they can sell their products. Cully noted that “[they] finally got [their] first round of funding in January 2022.” This funding allowed them to be able to start producing commercially-sized products and test them in real field conditions.
The Technology & Goals Behind Susterre
The goal with most new agriculture technology is to improve the farmer’s day-to-day life. Susterre’s goals are no different—they want to help the farmer plant crops more efficiently and effectively.
“Our goal with the company is to make it easier for farmers to use regenerative crop practices like no-till farming or the use of cover crops. Both practices have a lot of benefits environmentally and economically for the farmers. But the difficulty is that both practices come with crop residue, and the crop residue builds up over the seasons,” Cully explained. “It becomes more and more difficult for today’s planters to cut through it and put the seed in the ground at the right depth.
Due to the difficulties that come with regenerative farming practices, farmers often can only go a few years in the practice before having to resort to tilling again to cut through the crop residue. Susterre’s technology aims to cut through that crop residue to plant deeper in the soil without the harsh tilling machinery that’s typically used.
“We’re using ultra-high pressure water jets, which pump water at around 60,000 pounds per square inch. Just to give you a point of comparison, a power washer that you would use on your driveway is about 4,000 pounds per square inch, maximum.
This is way more pressure,” Cully explained. “In industrial manufacturing, these jets are used to cut through metal in precise patterns. We’re taking those, and we’re applying them to row crop applications, with the theory that if the jets can cut through metal, they can pretty much cut through anything.”
These water jets cut through the crop residue in order to allow seeds to be planted at the ideal depth for the most successful growth. What’s even better: a farmer can use fertilizer in the technology rather than just water, encouraging even more growth in their newly planted seeds.
“The fluid that we use doesn’t have to be water, it could be starter fertilizer that the farmers are putting down when they plant. We can run that through the system, and then the fertilizer cuts through the residue and we inject it into the soil about four inches deep,” Cully said.
The technology that Michael Cully and Susterre are pioneering is, hopefully, going to make sticking with regenerative farming practices a lot easier—both physically and financially.
“The idea is that we’re going to make it a lot easier for farmers to stay in these [regenerative] practices for longer. The longer you do it, the better. The benefits range from soil regeneration to increased carbon capture,” Cully said. “We’re also allowing farmers to more efficiently apply seed and fertilizer rather than over-applying them, so we can literally save them money and keep their farming operations going for longer.”
DID YOU KNOW?
While the average person may associate the word “residue” with negative things, crop residue is actually great at preventing soil erosion! Keeping crop residue intact in your fields may help the growth and yield of your crops throughout the year.
Susterre's Research and Technology
Since their initial round of funding in 2022, Susterre’s focus has been on testing to ensure that their products will be beneficial enough for farmers that they will be willing to not only mentally but financially invest in the product.
“In 2022, Susterre tested in eight different field conditions in three states and the province of Ontario, Canada. We were pretty excited about what we learned. In our testing, [we saw] two specific benefits that we weren’t sure we would find,” Cully said. “The first is that we were able to increase yields for the farmers anywhere from 6% to over 12%. The second is that we also noticed that we could plant in what I would call ‘unplantable’ conditions, like when the soil is ultra-compacted and hard to plant into. We’ve noticed that the product works really well in very tough conditions.”
But these are not the only discoveries that Susterre has made in their recent testing and research. Cully also explained how the high-pressure water jets in Susterre’s technology can give farmers extended plant time each season, giving them more of a chance to yield successful crops.
“In the spring, farmers have tended to have to wait for the fields to dry out to go out and plant. Our technology cuts well in wet conditions. So as long as a tractor can go out on the field, we can be out cutting and preparing the fields to plant,” Cully said. “In North Dakota, you probably have ten days to two weeks to plant, so every hour that we can give back to the farmers would be great for them in terms of either helping reduce risk or even planting more acres than they currently plant today.”
The Future of Ultra-High Pressure Water Jet Technology
Moving forward, Susterre will continue to test their products in a variety of field conditions in order to constantly improve the technology and increase the benefits for farmers. Cully was thrilled that they will be doing a lot more testing in North Dakota as part of their ongoing research and new partnership with Grand Farm.
“One thing I noticed about North Dakota is that between players like Grand Farm and North Dakota State University, and the North Dakota Government’s economic development work, everyone seems to be really focused on attracting business to North Dakota and facilitating the growth of business,” Cully said of his decision to bring his product testing to North Dakota. “It almost felt like an open door. And sometimes when you see an open door, you’ve got to walk through that open door.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Susterre was part of a Canadian agtech accelerator program through the Canadian Consulate that invited companies to speak to Grand Farm’s agricultural partners— which is how their partnership with Grand Farm got started!
Through their partnership, Susterre will be field testing their products on five acres of land at Grand Farm’s Casselton innovation site. Grand Farm has also facilitated some testing on a few farmers’ lands south of Casselton. Cully said of the Grand Farm team: “They have been really helpful in making sure that I had a good start in North Dakota.”
Cully also said that this year, with the growth of the business, he has plans to hire more to the North Dakota-based Susterre team—possibly including an intern in the mix!
“My intention this year is to hire a summer intern to help me do marketing events this summer. As soon as we get an order for a unit, I’ll be hiring probably at least one or two permanent employees to come and live in North Dakota. We won’t be here for only one [growing] season. It’s just the beginning of setting up an office and an operation in North Dakota as a Canadian company.”
With widespread expansion on the horizon for Susterre, they’re on the way to making regenerative farming practices sustainable for many more people.