Revised January 2022
Earthworm production is of growing interest to many land owners. Oftentimes a small earthworm enterprise is handled by family labor alone, making it a business with low start-up costs. Many rural land owners already own a majority of the materials needed for starting an earthworm enterprise. An operation with only a few worm beds requires minimal funds for start-up, maintenance, and labor.
The primary bait worm grown in the United States is the red earthworm (Lumbricus rebellus), which can tolerate large concentrations of organic matter. Red earthworms will mature in approximately 180 days. They live for about 700 days. Other worm species grown include African night crawler, and the brandling worm. African night crawlers grow best in higher temperatures and will reach marketable size in eight to ten weeks under ideal temperatures. Their cocoons hatch in only 12 days. Brandling worms produce about 900 eggs per worm per year, and can live for four to five years. It is suggested that brandling worms are best suited for vermiculture systems. The worms have a tendency to create an allergic reaction in humans and will omit a bitter odor if handled roughly.
Earthworms can be sold in two main markets. These markets include bait for fishing and worms for composting. They are both sizable markets with many opportunities. Recreational fishing generated $70 billion in sales impacts and 455,000 jobs in 2011. Earthworm producers can also find a growing market for composting as more people and business try to be more environmentally sustainable.
One pound of red earthworms sells for around $15-30 in a commercial market. Prices in a local market will vary depending on location and demand.
Attached is a sample budget for worm production from Pennsylvania State Extension.
- Composting With Red Wiggler Worms, City Farmer, Office of Urban Agriculture, Canada.
- 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.
- 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, 2021.