Growing up, Mike Nemeth was really into science topics, like recycling and even conservation. Oddly enough, he later went to school to become a dentist.
But after listening to him passionately talk about nature, water, and climate sustainability, you can understand why he quickly found himself switching majors to environmental science during his second year of dental school.
Nemeth is a senior advisor of agricultural and environmental sustainability at Nutrien in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He leads Nutrien’s global sustainability strategy through water stewardship practices, nature and biodiversity efforts, climate strategies, and carbon programs; and he’s bringing all of that expertise and experience to the Potato Sustainability Alliance’s (PSA) newly created water sustainability team.
Water sustainability is just one of the many components that encompass sustainable food and farming practices. For PSA, it’s a pivotal collaborative effort that its team of water stewards is seeking to help tell the story of across the entire potato supply chain.
Leading this team is Nemeth, who says “the key to water sustainability is water stewardship.”
In Nemeths’ eyes, water stewardship is a proactive approach that’s much different than water management.
“Water management considers the site-specific management needs, whether it’s a farm, a processing plant, or even a city,” says Nemeth. “But water stewardship is requiring us to look outside of our fence line.”
Looking beyond the fence line means understanding the watershed in which farms operate, knowing their role and impact in it, and engaging with groups and organizations to address shared water challenges.
For farmers specifically, Nemeth says that on-farm stewardship is grounded in good agronomy. “If you’re doing good agronomy in your fields, you’re already practicing a lot of what water stewardship is on a farm.”
Practices such as planting cover crops, using variable rate pivot irrigation systems, and utilizing fertilizer inputs effectively, are all ways potato farmers are impacting positive water outcomes.
Where the pinch point lies, is measuring, documenting, and reporting the value of these practices through a water sustainability lens, while recognizing that a blanket approach to water stewardship doesn’t apply to every watershed.
“We’re working in a biological system with loads of natural variability, so measuring that can be a bit of a challenge,” says Nemeth.
Additionally, Nemeth relates that practicing good water stewardship isn’t new in agriculture, but as an industry, and within the potato supply chain, telling the story of how water stewardship is already being done on the farm could use a narrative.
These are all challenges Nemeth is willing to take on to help capture the positive benefits water stewardship has on water quality, soil, and climate, while ultimately helping farmers continue to sustainably feed the world.
Here’s a glance at this episode:
- [01:38] Guest Mike Nemeth shares his career experience and expertise working in various realms of environmental sustainability and stewardship.
- [06:12] Mike explains how taking a global approach to water stewardship can help the agriculture sector take on water challenges and conversations regionally and locally.
- [09:15] Compared to measuring greenhouse gases, Mike shares his thoughts on the differences and challenges of accounting for water sustainability.
- [11:19] Mike explains the difference between water management and water stewardship.
- [13:20] Mike gives an example of how a blanket approach can’t be used to measure water quality metrics within every watershed due to each area’s natural biodiversity.
- [16:02] As the leader of PSA’s water sustainability development team, Mike explains that the group will take a board approach to water sustainability to understand how water stewardship planning and implementation can create value across the entire potato supply chain.
- [21:46] Mike shares that water stewardship isn’t new in agriculture, but rather telling the story of how water stewardship is being done on the farm needs to be implemented.
- [23:52] Mike explains real examples of how growers already partake in on-farm water stewardship practices.
- [29:10] Mike shares what he’s most looking forward to in working with PSA’s water sustainability development team.