Worm Power: The Future of Composting

Date of publication : 10/18/2007
If the average cow produces 100 pounds of manure a day, how does a dairy farmer manage all the excess waste? Tom Herlihy, an agricultural engineer, created a unique and environmentally friendly technology to deal with this very problem.

Herlihy owns and operates RT Solutions Inc., which employs 8 million earthworms in a state-of-the-art facility to transform manure into an environmentally friendly, all organic fertilizer called Worm Power.

Worm Power benefits from its process-controlled and quality-engineered vermicomposting process. Vermicomposting is the process of breaking down organic matter using earthworms. The worms eat the organic matter and generate castings that serve as a nutrient-rich, natural fertilizer.

Initially, the manure is subjected to a series of heat treatments in a composting process to ensure the elimination of weed seeds and potential pathogens to meet U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency standards. Next, red worms, a specific type of earthworm used for vermiculture, digest the organic waste. The worms' digestive system, along with bacteria inside the digestive tract, accelerates the decomposition and stabilization of the organic matter.

The process is also fast and efficient. One pound of worms can digest up to a half pound of organic material per day. The process can transform 1,320,000 pounds of raw manure into a high-quality soil fertility product in approximately 60 days. According to Herlihy, the final product has the wonderful look and feel of dark coffee grounds with a pleasant, slightly earthy aroma.

The link between earthworm activity and healthy soil has long been documented, but recent advances in microbiology and soil chemistry have proven a direct link between soil fertility and vermicomposted materials. Worm Power enriches the physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil allowing it to thrive even under the most demanding environmental conditions. In addition, it improves plant development, as well as root growth and structure of plants.

This project received Phase I and Phase II funding from the USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) for developing and marketing this product. SBIR awards competitive grants to qualified small businesses to support high quality, advanced-concepts research related to important scientific problems and opportunities in agriculture that could lead to significant public benefit if successful.

CSREES advances knowledge for agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities by supporting research, education and extension programs in the Land-Grant University System and other partner organizations.
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