29 June 2001



Cheshire farmer John Davies

got out of dairying and into

supplying worms for

home-composting kits, as

Roger Bushby explained

CHESHIRE dairy farmer John Davies has swapped a lifetime of twice-a-day milking of 160 Friesians for a new enterprise running a worm farm.

Mr Davies farms at Edge, near Malpas. Edge Grange and its 116ha (286 acres) have been in the Davies family for over 100 years. But he decided to throw tradition out of the window, and bury himself in the underground mysteries of the humble worm – and make a living at it.

John, who runs the worm-breeding operation with his wife Sue, says: "Diversification was something forced upon us by circumstances. The question we had to answer was where to now?

"My eldest son, Johnson, decided he no longer wanted to work the farm, and the bottom had fallen out of the milk market. Instead of 24p/litre in the good days, the market started hitting 16p/litre.

I also got fed up with the red tape and shooting valueless calves as they were born. The whole thing had become a nightmare, so we sold the herd at what was probably the worst possible time."

Many farmers would have sold up and retired at this stage, but for John – with three small sons from his second marriage – this was not an option.

"When I told people we were going to be worm farmers, I got more than a few old-fashioned looks.

"But to me it made sense. Its the way ahead environmentally and has potential for sensible and healthy profits."

John and Sue then made it their business to find out all they could about worm farming. Around nine months ago they invested a few thousand £s of the proceeds of the Friesian sale, bought 100kg of worms and set about converting two 36m (120ft) cow kennels into worm beds.

The easy part

"That was the easy part," says John. "Some plywood, a bit of carpentry and some old silage sheets did the job. We ended up with 20 worm beds, each 4ft wide, and layered each with around 7in of waste material and horse manure.

"The worms are self-perpetuating, and lay one egg every two weeks. Once theyve eaten the bottom layer you top-up with another one and so on."

The couple decided that they needed two operations – one to breed the worms, the other to market them. The marketing arm was called EcoWorms and John and Sue approached businessman friend John Godwin, who had the necessary expertise to help get the operation off the ground. They formed a business partnership, the aim being that EcoWorms would buy the worms from the breeding farm and would then find the customer.

They now offer a range of composting kits to the public, consisting of 250 or 500g of worms and bedding. They also sell the composting bins themselves. Sales began on Apr 1 and, despite a slow start, they are convinced that numbers will increase as more people get to know about composting.

The company is now embarking on a vigorous marketing campaign aimed at the public and local authorities.

Five thousand leaflets – designed by themselves – were printed and point-of-sale displays were put in place at relevant venues.

EcoWorms also presented their case to local authorities to get EcoWorm contact details included in council information literature – Selby Borough Council was their first presentation. Composting bins were purchased and the final step was to design and set up their own web-site (www.ecoworms.com).

Local authorities

"We plan to speak to as many local authorities in the country as possible because we believe in what were doing. The composting of household waste is the only viable option to reducing the green waste which goes into landfill sites at a big cost to the taxpayer and the environment," says John.

"Add worms to the composting concept, and you have a quicker and more friendly way of dealing with the domestic waste problem – and thats where were at."

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