Trialing On-Farm Windrow Vermicomposting as a Mechanism for Reducing Producer Dependence on Off-Farm Inputs

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $24,240.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2025
Host Institution Award ID: G279-23-W9982
Grant Recipient: Watershed Ranch
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Rick Bieterman
Watershed Ranch

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Soil Management: composting

    Proposal summary:

    In Colorado's Upper Arkansas River Valley, agricultural producers are looking for innovative ways to improve soil health to build resilience against drought and other growing challenges. Currently, many farmers and ranchers rely heavily on off-farm inputs, such as synthetic fertilizers, to maintain soil fertility and yields. This reliance is financially and environmentally costly and is a significant barrier to building economic and ecological resilience. High fungal compost is emerging as a biological soil amendment that can minimize/ reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers, and local interest in it is growing. However, unless agricultural producers can produce high fungal compost themselves with locally available ingredients, they remain dependent on expensive off-farm inputs, and at the mercy of market prices and availability. 

    This project explores the feasibility of producing high fungal vermicompost on-farm in a cost and labor effective way in the semi-arid, high mountain environment of the Upper Arkansas River Valley. Producers and researchers around the world are developing strategies for on-farm production of high fungal vermicompost, but there is no local model for doing so. This project recognizes the need for a local producer to trial a high fungal vermicomposting system, giving other farmers and ranchers a blueprint for producing their own soil amendments. This would help farmers and ranchers boost profits, build resilience, and reduce dependence on environmentally harmful synthetic fertilizers. 

    Building on knowledge gleaned from other on-farm composters, we will construct static pile vermicompost windrows with cheap and readily available local materials, adapting methods to fit our particular environment. The findings of this research will be disseminated to fellow producers and the broader community through workshops at the demonstration site, an instructional video series and how-to manual, and ongoing educational events coordinated with community partner organizations. 

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Research Objective 1: Trial on-farm windrow vermicomposting with locally available materials and evaluate product quality through compost testing. 

    Research Objective 2: Conduct a basic economic analysis comparing the cost of production of homemade vermicompost versus the purchase of off-farm inputs (synthetic fertilizer and commercial high fungal compost). 

    Education Objective 1: Increase awareness among local agricultural producers and community members about the biological approach to soil fertility and how biological soil amendments such as biodiverse, high fungal vermicompost can be used as alternatives to synthetic and other off-farm inputs. 

    Education Objective 2: Lower the knowledge barrier for producers interested in implementing their own on-farm windrow vermicomposting systems.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.