Canadian company finds its way into plant food and agricultural markets
FarmMedia Glacier – It all started with a few verses and an idea, and has now grown to four installs and 70 million red wigglers.
And that’s what makes Canada’s largest worm farm different – it’s grown so big.
âOne of the biggest challenges for worm farms is scalability,â said Michael Launer, CEO of Annelida Organics, an Edmonton-based company specializing in vermicomposting (worm breeding).
âThe big suppliers in the United States are cooperatives or consortia with about 30 different small hobbyists. They supply to a supplier (and) they pack it and sell it.
Founded in 2018, the young company took possession of an empty building in Stony Plain to make it its first worm farm. It took 11 months to build the beds and make the building the perfect environment to grow worms. Once settled in, the worms began to produce casts (worm poo) – which is like gold to gardeners – at the rate of around 5,000 to 6,000 pounds per day.
âWe had our first sale as the first wave of COVID-19,â Launer said. “We had a lot of obstacles in our way.”
Annelida Organics sells the worms for people who want to have their own vermicompost at home and also does bulk orders. But their specialty is products made from casts of worms (a.k.a. vermicastings), which can be used as plant food or as items such as lawn “mends” for dog owners.
âInitially, we started by going into small-scale greenhouses and garden centers, so that we could build larger facilities and thus have the production capacity to support large-scale applications,â said Brooklynn Fournier, director of agricultural sales for the company. âCastings do a wide range of things. They increase the microbial base of the soil, which allows the release of nutrients. With the help of these beneficial microbes, we can decrease the amount of synthetic fertilizer that needs to be applied, while maintaining yields.
Business took off quickly and the company now employs 40 people.
âWe realized quickly that we weren’t going to meet market demands, especially when we realized that agriculture was one of the biggest markets we wanted to target,â Launer said.
The worms grown at Annelida Organics are red wigglers, and they are eager to feed on food waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill.
âWe feed our worms a variety of foods – groceries, coffee grounds and things like that,â Fournier said, adding that the company had an agreement with the Freson Bros. grocery chain. and that it uses a large portion of its unsaleable products.
The beds are started with grain, hay and shredded cardboard, which retains moisture while the worms feed on it. The beds have more than one story, and the tops of them (where âfreshâ organic materials are applied) are accessible by walkways.
And while they aren’t the most picky eaters, red wigglers are very picky when it comes to temperature and humidity.
âYou don’t want your beds to get hot or dry. You want to give them a healthy bed, so that you can reap all the benefits of nematodes, fungi and whatever will increase productivity, âFournier said.
âIt is a real source of growth for beneficial bacteria microbes. The worms will start to eat this, along with the glue in the cardboard box. The glue in the cardboard is a source of protein for the worms.
About 16,000 pounds of waste are used each day to feed the worms. From there, Annelida Organics collects around 20,000 pounds of worm droppings.
The casts are collected by a giant knife that moves along the bottom of the beds, then the casts are passed through a drum. The beds themselves last 60 days.
âWe start a bed and throw a poker chip on top. The moment that poker chip hits the bottom of the bed, that’s when we know we’ve gone through the whole process, âshe said.
Lots of worms, lots of products
In addition to its Stony Plain plant, the company has a second production plant at the Edmonton airport, a ranching operation in St. Albert and a soil mixing plant in Nisku. The latter is where the bags and tubs of worm casts are mixed with products such as peat moss, biochar, and coconut fiber to produce liquid fertilizers as well as granular products used by farmers. gardeners, greenhouses, vineyards, cannabis growers and others. They also contain seed inoculants and liquid extracts. Some of Annelida Organics’ products are used in reclamation work for things like chemicals and oil spills, Fournier said. The group is also embarking on turf trials and will work with sports field operators.
It’s a wide range of products that cover (literally) a lot of ground, but worm castings are in high demand, Fournier said.
âWorm casts are a key ingredient in any premium soil mix,â she said. âIt was a natural progression for us to move from producing worm casts to mixing soils. We now have a full line of scientifically designed blends that we can make for any industry. “
Last year, the company launched an agricultural line that it had tested in trials.
âWe arrived a little late for seeding, so our seeding treatments weren’t applied to as many fields as we hoped,â Fournier said. âOne of the things we really shine with is our seed treatment. Our seed treatment is microbial based and is combined with other nutrients to speed up overall emergence and germination rates. But it also increases the overall vigor of the plant, allowing it to have some of the start it needs. “
The product has given positive results in drought conditions this year as the casts have increased the water holding capacity of the soil.
Annelida has contacted different agencies because she wants independent organizations to conduct trials.
Its products are available at garden stores in Alberta and British Columbia, at retailers like Canadian Tire, and at Ray-Agro agricultural dealers. The agricultural line can be purchased directly from the company.
Alexis Kienlen is a reporter for the Alberta Farmer Express. His article appeared in the November 1, 2021 issue.