IWCA Q&A: An agtech visionary
Karen Schuett is disrupting agriculture globally in pursuit of lagoon-free food production.
Karen Schuett, co-founder and CEO of Livestock Water Recycling (LWR), is a highly regarded manure expert. Her Calgary-based agtech company has developed one of the global livestock industry’s most sought-after manure treatment innovations. In pursuing her work towards lagoon-free food, this visionary has received numerous awards. Canadian Poultry editor Brett Ruffell spoke with Schuett about taking risks, her defining moment and, of course, manure.
Tell us a bit about your background in agriculture.
My background in agriculture is growing up in suburban Calgary – definitely not on a farm – visiting my family friend’s farm and thinking of it as just this magical place where the world was so different and exciting. How we got started in this business is from a background in water treatment. We had been working with hydrocarbon contaminated groundwater and we were asked by some local farms in Alberta to get involved with some of their manure water that they were dealing with. And that really inspired us to get involved in this business completely.
So, why manure?
That’s probably the most common question I get, and it’s pretty hard for me to explain how excited I was when I realized that there was this water trapped in these manure lagoons. But I’ve never really thought of it as manure or as waste. I’ve really thought of it as such an awesome opportunity to bring clean water around recycling of nutrients. And it’s just been inspirational since I very first started in it.
What do you like best about your role?
I think the diversity around what I do every day. So, one day we were on a farm tour, looking at manure. The next day I met with the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in the U.S. And then the week after that I spoke at a junior high school in Calgary about where milk comes from. And then the week after that I met Chuck Magro, the CEO of Nutrien, at an event. It just goes to show how agriculture touches all of us, from the classroom to the corporation to government to farms.
Could you explain your PLANT System?
We developed the system to operate like an on-farm fertilizer plant or water treatment plant. We go on-farm and install the equipment on a series of skids. It takes in manure laden water from the farms, be it a hog farm digester or dairy farm. We separate all the valuable nutrients into two different fertilizers, a solid fertilizer and a liquid fertilizer. And then the rest, so 70 per cent of what we take in, comes out as clean reusable water.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career?
Definitely starting a manure business in the middle of Calgary. It wasn’t exactly what people were expecting in the middle of Calgary during the oil boom for someone to start a manure business. But it has been an exciting adventure and overall a really great idea.
What’s been the defining moment of your career?
A defining moment in this business was the first time we made clean water from manure. It’s still exciting every time we go to a farm and clean water comes out of our system. Everyone gets really excited when they first see that moment.
What would you like to see more of?
More of what’s happening with the circular economy. We see so much progress in technology to improve how we work on our land, bring crops to market and protect our waterways. Everything around the circular economy is a plus for our environment and profitability on our farms, boosting up our agricultural industry by boosting up our environment.
Why is it important to recognize and single out the achievements of women in agriculture?
I think it’s important to highlight how women are contributing so that younger women can have role models.