By Ray Hansen, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reviewed June 2012 by Malinda Geisler, AgMRC, Iowa State University.
For decades, the vermiculture (vermes is Latin for worms) industry has been blessed and cursed by the logical and seemingly simplistic nature of the business. The ecological appeal of the industry has captured the attention and imagination of hobbyist, entrepreneurs and even municipalities.
The science and technology behind vermiculture is sound and tends to show potential for continued growth. However, the industry has numerous challenges and needs to carefully address the issue of balancing growth with demand.
Currently producers involved in vermiculture are targeting one or more of the following markets: worms for bait and pet food, worms for composting and waste processing or worm casting for soil enhancement.
Worms used for bait and pet foods are typically earthworms, night crawlers or red worms. Vermiculture operations that supply the bait and pet food market have proven to be profitable in geographical areas with established markets and high demand.
Worms grown for commercial composting and waste processing are typically red worms. Composting with worms can be divided into two distinct market segments: commercial landfill applications and household waste management.
Decades of research done on landfill and municipal waste composting indicates that there is great potential to accelerate the decomposition rate by as much as 75 percent when red worms are introduced. Research shows the potential for large-scale use of vermicomposting technology. It has been incorporated in several landfills; however, it has yet to be adopted on any notable scale.
Composting of organic household waste has seen considerable growth and appears to be a relevant market opportunity. With growing public sentiment for improved household waste management programs, many homeowners and communities are investing in home composting systems for household and yard waste. Many household scale-composting systems can use both red worms and earthworms. Since composting systems that are operated properly will be able to maintain and likely increase their own population of worms, sales of worms for composting at both the household and commercial levels are considered one-time markets. Because the rate of reproduction for worms in a composting environment can be very rapid, selling composting worms is typically only part of a successful vermiculture marketing strategy.
The worm castings market, often called vermicompost or vermicast, has developed into a strong vermiculture marketing opportunity. Vermicompost is worm excrement that works well as a soil additive, increasing water-holding capacity, improving soil structure and adding natural fertilizer elements. It is sold in bulk for agricultural applications or bagged for horticultural uses.
Because of the relatively inexpensive equipment, entry into the industry is extremely easy for both small-scale and large-scale producers. With this ease of market entry, the potential for price volatility and competition is extremely high.
Marketing agreements and contracts are available from some vermiculture suppliers. Many suppliers offer marketing services if their equipment is used, while other producers market worms and castings privately to locally established markets.
Creating flexible marketing strategies that can balance the supply and demand for both worms and vermicompost is critical to staying competitive and profitable.
- Composting With Red Wiggler Worms, City Farmer, Office of Urban Agriculture, Canada.
- Earthworm Production, Agricultural Alternatives, Penn State University, 1994 - The primary bait worm raised in the United States is the red worm (Lumbricus rubellus) because of its hardiness and ability to tolerate large concentrations of decaying organic matter.
- Home Worm Production, Texas A&M University - Describes vermicomposting, which includes raising worms, producing compost that is very beneficial for plants and disposing of kitchen waste all in one.
- The Ups and Downs of Worm Growing Keep Georgia Farmer on His Toes, Rodale Institute, 2003.
- Vermicomposting: Composting with Worms, University of Nebraska.
- Vermicomposting: Indoor Composting with Earthworms, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
- Vermiculture or Worm Composting, Washington State University.
- Vermiculture (Worms), North Carolina Cooperative Extension - Provides a directory of companies and individuals who are involved in the vermiculture or vermicomposting industry.
- Worm Farming Secrets - A commercial site that offers a newsletter and worm supplies.
- Worms for Bait or Waste Processing (Vermicomposting), ATTRA, NCAT, 2010.
Links checked June 2012.