Underground bio highway to better health

The Sustainable Hour no. 510 | Transcript | Podcast notes

Farmers are joining the dots working with worms and nature

Our guest in The Sustainable Hour no. 510 on 3 July 2024 is Jason Nicholls from Worm Solutions in Albury, New South Wales. His company provides organic and natural worm-based solutions for farming.

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In the Hour’s introduction, Anjali Sharma criticises the Australian government’s lack of action on climate, Mik Aidt highlights the government’s approval of environmentally damaging projects, and Colin Mockett OAM delivers his weekly Global Outlook news bulletin. More details in the transcript.

Jason Nicholls talks about the benefits of using worm juice – ‘bio-stimulants’, he calls it – as an alternative to synthetic fertilisers and the challenges of promoting sustainable farming practices. He explains how these natural solutions can improve soil health, increase crop yields, and reduce the reliance on expensive synthetic chemicals.

“If the cattle are eating a nutritious grass that has been laced with a kelp bio-stimulant with sugars and organic inputs, compared to a synthetic-based petroleum product, the palatability and production rates have increased,” he notes.

Nicholls also highlights the importance of supporting sustainable farming practices and knowing where our food comes from. He shares his own journey of transitioning to organic and sustainable farming methods and encourages others to do the same.

“These older generational farmers have… I wouldn’t say ‘they’ve woken up’, but they’ve just… something’s just twigged with them, and they’ve just gone, ‘This can’t keep going. This is just absolute bollocks! The increases in pricing. And our soil, every year, year on year, is depleting.’
It’s like an addiction. They might put out 100 kilos [of synthetic fertiliser] a hectare this year, next year they need 150, the year after they need 200. It’s like coffee, alcohol or any drug of dependence: the more you have it, the more you need to get the same effect.”
~ Jason Nicholls, founder of Worm Solutions

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We at The Sustainable Hour would like to pay our respect to the traditional custodians of the land on which we
are broadcasting, the Wathaurong People, and pay our respect to their elders, past, present and future.

The traditional owners lived in harmony with the land. They nurtured it and thrived in often harsh conditions for millennia before they were invaded. Their land was then stolen from them – it wasn’t ceded. It is becoming more and more obvious that, if we are to survive the climate emergency we are facing, we have much to learn from their land management practices.

Our battle for climate justice won’t be won until our First Nations brothers and sisters have their true justice. When we talk about the future, it means extending our respect to those children not yet born, the generations of the future – remembering the old saying that, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”
The decisions currently being made around Australia to ignore the climate emergency are being made by those who won’t be around by the time the worst effects hit home. How disrespectful and unfair is that?

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Anjali Sharma

Duty of Care Bill Update

Senator David Pocock wrote:

“Last year, I introduced a bill aimed at legislating a duty of care to young people and future generations​​​​​. Over the past few months, an inquiry has thoroughly examined this bill. It received 403 submissions from experts, lawyers, doctors, and young people. Out of these, only one opposed the bill. Just one out of 403.

You can read the full report from the inquiry, here. My dissenting report in favour of a duty of care is here.

Despite this overwhelming support and even some government members backing the idea of a duty of care, the government dominated committee recommended against the bill being passed.

By doing so, the Government and Coalition have chosen to ignore the huge support and all of the evidence in favour of passing the bill. They have turned their back on young people.

Given that the health and wellbeing of a child born today will be profoundly shaped by climate change, I find this decision astonishing and deeply concerning.

While this decision is disappointing, it is far from the end for the Duty of Care bill. We need to keep pushing forward.

Please sign the petition and urge the government to recognise its duty of care to young people. I also encourage everyone to get in touch with their local MP and call on them to support this crucial bill.

I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who continues to support the bill, especially the many young people who made submissions. Your voices are powerful and vital.

Together, we can make a difference.



David Ritter, CEO, Greenpeace Pacific, wrote on Linkedin:
“Last night, a senate committee rejected the Duty of Care bill, which asks decision-makers to consider the well-being of children when making decisions about projects that will harm the climate. It’s extraordinary that young people had to campaign for their own safety from the consequences of burning fossil fuels in the first place, and rejection of this fundamental demand is an abject failure by the government to recognise its highest duty—the protection and safety of its citizens.

I’m thinking of all the young people who campaigned so hard on this, including the wonderful Anjali Sharma, who spearheaded this campaign while juggling a law degree and a short but impactful stint at Greenpeace Australia Pacific. To them I want to say; that you should be so proud of carrying this bill to this point. You have the right of it—and so many of us back your cause, and won’t stop fighting against vested fossil fuel interests to secure a safe world for future generations.

It’s not too late for Labor to turn its climate rhetoric into greater action, starting with an end to approvals for new fossil fuel projects including Woodside’s Burrup Hub—the most climate-polluting project currently proposed in Australia.”

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Transcript of The Sustainable Hour no. 510

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General:
Our world cannot afford to wait. We are at the moment of truth. But we have a breakdown of trust.

The Sustainable Hour. For a green, clean, sustainable Geelong. The Sustainable Hour.

Orpheus – Acknowledgement of Country:
We respectfully acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land from which we are broadcasting, the Wadawurrung people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to their elders, past, present, and emerging leaders, recognising their enduring connection to the land, water, culture, and community. As custodians of this land, the Wadawurrung people have nurtured and sustained it for millennia, thriving in harmony with nature long before colonisation. Their land was never ceded, and we acknowledge the profound injustice of its theft. As we face the pressing climate emergency, it is clear that we have much to learn from their sustainable land management practices. Our quest for climate justice is intrinsically linked to justice for First Nations Australians. We must honour their wisdom and practices if we are to secure a sustainable future.

This extends to recognising the rights of future generations, embodying the belief that we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children. The decisions we make today must reflect our responsibility to leave a thriving, healthy planet for those yet unborn. Indigenising ourselves means actively embracing indigenous knowledge and recalibrating our goals and values. It calls for a deep respect for the principles of stewardship and harmony with nature that have guided Indigenous communities for thousands of years. Their practices offer lessons in resilience and sustainability that are critical for our survival. Together, we can create a future where justice, sustainability, and harmony with the Earth are realised for all.

Anjali Sharma, Instagram post:
I’m sitting here today in the cafe of the Federal Parliament because today the Labor government has chosen to deny that they owe young people a duty of care to protect us from the impacts of climate change. Despite receiving over 15,000 petition signatures in support, 400 submissions to a public inquiry, the support of the health sector and government politicians and crossbench politicians and young people, the government has once again chosen not to elevate these voices and to prioritise short-term decision-making over a long-term view. To truly mitigate climate change and to ensure that the young people of today and tomorrow have a liveable future, we need action. We need ambition. Unfortunately, today’s report serves as yet another blow to the young people whose futures rely on the decisions made in this building today. We know that Prime Minister Albanese fully comprehends the significance of the problem. Nearly 20 years ago, he was standing on the floor of the House of Representatives inside this building, declaring that climate change would be devastating for much of the world. He went on to say in that very speech: ‘It is time to act. It is time for procrastination to end. We cannot any longer afford to be complacent on this issue. We need action.’

Mik Aidt:
Anjali Sharma, we hear you. We understand your sadness and frustration right now. 100 per cent. This is shameful. As they wrote in The Guardian: ‘The sham of Australia’s climate change policy has been made very clear in the last two weeks. Last Friday, while everyone was raising down the nuclear-powered rabbit holes, the Environment Department, led by Environment Minister Tanja Plibersek, approved a cold-seam gas pipeline in Queensland. And this approval has effect until 30th of June, 2069. And then on Tuesday the department approved the Atlas State 3 gas project in Queensland out to June 2080.’

So, 69 and 80, what’s that? Albanese, Plibersek, what is it with the 2050, the global 2050 goal, that you guys don’t understand? 69, that’s 19 years beyond 2050. And 2080, well, that’s 30 years beyond when we should be completely over with putting more climate pollution up in the atmosphere.

And I think, Anjali, I think what we need to understand here is that asking nicely, asking a government nicely to do the right thing just doesn’t work. Not when there’s money and of course also voters at stake. There’s an election around the corner now and it’s much easier to sell the idea of keeping the old things running than replacing it with something new. The Australian people voted in the Labor government two years ago on a promise that they would take action on climate. And now we know that they were lying straight in our faces. And the conclusion, if you ask me, is we need a shift. We need people in the control room of this country who are not liars, who will represent us, the community, who want a safe future for our young people. People who do understand that they do have a duty of care in the parliament to the youth, a responsibility.

That’s people like David Pocock, the man who together with Anjali put this duty of care bill forward. And there’s just two words, Anjali, which are the answer to that shift, Community Independents. That’s the movement which is building. And I promise you, you will be hearing a lot more about Community Independents in this podcast, this program, The Sustainable Hour.

The movement has already arrived in our region here in Geelong and will be growing every day. Already there’s weekly Zoom meetings happening at the moment. There’s posters and pamphlets being designed and printed and plans are in the brewing. So watch this space. And in the meanwhile, let’s hear what’s been happening around the world. We have Colin Mockett OAM, who has been keeping close eyes on the global development. What do you have for us today, Colin?

Colin Mockett OAM’s Global Outlook:
Well, thank you, Mik. Yes, our roundup this week begins in the United States at last week’s American presidential debate, where the environment and climate change received very little attention. When it was first brought up by the moderators, Trump avoided the question and Biden failed to detail the differences he’d made over Trump’s rolling back of former President Obama’s environmental policies.

Then, with just 38 seconds left of the hour-long debate, the moderators asked Donald Trump if he would take any action as president to slow the climate crisis. His answer was this in full. So, I want absolutely immaculate clean water and I want absolutely clean air. And we had it. We had H2O, we had the best numbers ever. And we did. We were using all forms of energy, all forms, everything. And yet, during my four years, I had the best environmental numbers ever. And my top environmental people gave me that statistic just before I walked on stage, actually.

There, that’s the man who is likely to be in charge of the world’s biggest carbon emitting country with its largest and most expensive climate change strategies, unless America gets its act together.

Now back home here to Australia with two items of interest. First, the mining giant BHP announced that it is sticking to its multi-billion dollar decarbonisation plans despite opposition leader Peter Dutton signalling that he would scrap Australia’s 2030 climate target and push to replace fossil fuels with nuclear power. That political uncertainty is not affecting BHP, which told an investor briefing last week that it was on track to cut operating emissions by nearly a third over the decade to 2030.

BHP, which is the world’s biggest resource company, is reducing emissions by buying more renewable energy to power its operations, electrifying its currently diesel-powered mining vehicle fleet, and finding ways to cut figurative methane emissions from its coal mines.

Then, also in Australia, last week in Parliament, a report was tabled saying that Australia needs a new national plan to stomp out massive levels of plastic pollution. It went pretty much unnoticed by the media, which was diverted by Julian Assange’s release. But the inquiry found that previous approaches have failed to even slow down the amount of plastic that’s entering our waterways and from there to the sea, let alone reducing the amount of plastic we put into landfill.

The new report is called ‘Drowning in Waste’. It came from an inquiry chaired by Labor MP Tony Zappia. It described the current National Plastics Plan as a disjointed compilation of goals, and pointed to the failed Red Cycle scheme, where supermarkets were found hoarding thousands of tonnes of plastic waste that they could not recycle as an indicator of what is broken in Australia’s approach to plastic recycling. It called the project a small voluntary scheme artificially amplified by the supermarkets and product sectors for greenwash marketing purposes. It also said that the industry lacked credible commitment through its use of labeling signals.

The Australian Marine Conservative Society told the report that Australians produce on average 59 kilos of plastic waste per person each year, and the misleading supermarket packaging only made the problem worse. ‘Australians generate more single-use plastic waste per person than almost every other country in the world,’ spokesperson Kip Hamilton said.

The AMCS accused Australian supermarkets of knowingly engaging in greenwashing tactics, saying that they were particularly concerned with the use of plant-based and compostable plastics, as well as single-use labelling as a means of circumventing state and territory plastic bans. But finally, I have a piece of very good news from Europe.

Last week, a knife-aged vote by the EU member states gave the green light to a first-of-its-kind law to protect and revive Europe’s beleaguered forests, coastlines, wildlife and grasslands. Member states are now tasked with restoring 20 per cent of the bloc’s land and sea by the end of the decade, focusing on natural ecosystems that will store the most carbon, and halting the decline of Europe’s rapidly vanishing biodiversity.

The move was passed by a single vote, thanks to Austria’s environmental minister changing her country’s direction, to the anger of her prime minister. So thank you, Minister Leonor Guss-Westler, on behalf of the world’s environment, and for bringing this week’s World Roundup to a satisfactory positive ending. Because that’s my roundup for the week.

Listen to our Sustainable Hour – for the future.

Mik Aidt:
Today in The Sustainable Hour, we’re going to take another dig deeper into the soil and into solutions as we always do in a way to look for natural and organic approaches to how we transition further and how we can change the world. And with us today, we have Jason Nicholls who runs a business called Worm Solutions. The name says it all, doesn’t it? Jason, welcome to The Sustainable Hour. What’s Worm Solutions?

Jason Nicholls:
Thank you, Mik, and good day, Colin. Yes, Worm Solutions is a business that we created during COVID. Like most people, we sort of got sick of our nine-to-five jobs and we got to be innovative and saw a gap in the market. And also at times when fertiliser prices were skyrocketing and farmers were looking to alternatives to synthetic farming.

And so basically we provide things from large scale worm farms, composting bunker plans, organic natural worm juice solutions that people can spray on their garden or paddocks. And also anything from compost worms to fishing bait worms. Yeah. And like you said, anything to do with worms, we have you covered.

Are you able to sort of come up with a solution that could be a replacement to all the synthetic fertilisers that the farmers are using?

Look, I certainly think they have the potential with the right management and inputs. The biggest drawback with worm farming on a broad-acre scale is that it just doesn’t have the nitrogen naturally that farmers are chasing for their growth and prosperity of their crops. So look, we’re always evolving and changing. Like in the last couple of years, we have bought in a organic kelp solution, which, you know, seaweed we know has a lot of great properties, plant growth hormones, amino acids, and so on. So it certainly raises those natural numbers of nitrogen, but we at Worms Solutions, we understand that farmers need a yield and they need often quick results. And unfortunately at this stage, that seems to be only be achieved by synthetic input as such. But certainly if you were to invest the time and patience into a long-term strategy with organic inputs, certainly growing healthier, more sustainable crops, improving your soil health and structure and lowering your input costs, your return on investment will improve whilst also improving your soil, which is, you know, I guess as we all know, it all starts in the soil. So get your soil right and the rest becomes a little easier.

Colin Mockett:
How big is your operation? What do you feed your worms on? I mean, how do you get the vegetation that they need to keep their compost going? And yeah, how do you market it to the farmers?

Jason Nicholls:
Yeah, good one, Colin. So basically there’s a little bit of a misconception that, you know, a large scale worm farm needs all fruit and veggie scraps.

You know, that certainly, you know, they will work through those materials and obviously give you a nutrient dense worm casting and liquid. The good thing about it, most farmers, even on small hobby farms, will have an array of manures, calf, chicken beddings, also old pasture hay or damaged hay. We’ve all seen those hay sheds or bales that have been out in the rain for 10 years and they just sit there and sit there and grow weeds on them. So materials like that.

Certainly, you know, we could put 80 to 100 round bales a year through our facility, which is about 120 square meters in size in ground. So, you know, using inputs like that, we also collect fruit and veggie scraps from the local IGA’s, coffee grounds from local cafes and businesses, shredded cardboard from local businesses, paper from offices. So, you know, it’s about recycling those inputs that would normally once, you know, be diverted to landfill.

Colin Mockett:
That’s great Jason, but what’s your output? How much are you producing per week?

Jason Nicholls:
Between our in-ground facility and you know we have approximately 50 of our IBC worm farms that I manufacture and sell around Australia. We’re probably looking at around a couple hundred thousand litres a year at the moment of worm juice sort of bio solution we’re calling it. Yeah like a liquid vermi wash that has been through a filtering system and then get stored in underground tanks. So then we pump it out as required.

Colin Mockett:
And how do you retail it?

Jason Nicholls:
Yeah, look, we have a couple of resalers. So we have a Mudgee Produce Plus up in Mudgee. We’ve got Australian Farm Fencing in Wagga. We have the local nurseries. We have a local Mitre 10 that carries our products. And social media is our main call out, I guess, a few thousand dollars a month on social media advertising. You know, it’s not something that we love doing, like no business likes to spend money on advertising, but certainly as a startup business, self-funded, we certainly need to get it out there and as quick as possible. And for us at the moment, social media has been our main source for that. If I wanted, I mean, Geelong, if I wanted some of your worm juice.

Colin Mockett:
First up, what’s it called? Secondly, how do I contact you? And three, how can I get it?

Jason Nicholls:
Yeah, look, we have a website. If you Google ‘worm solutions’, it’ll come up. It’ll direct you to our website. And it has a contact us page there. We are in the process. We’re about halfway through developing a whole brand new website, which will have a lot more functionality. And it will pick you up when you Google things like worm farm or worm juice.

We will certainly be ranking fairly highly there. And, you know, for Geelong, yeah, we have our transport companies that deliver there. And look, e-commerce for us is probably our main for our smaller items. You know, your five litre worm juice, 20 litre worm juice, so on and so forth, is done through our website. We also have other e-commerce partners in the grid and Big W online. So… If you go to Big W online, you will find our products there. And yeah, and at the moment, that’s our main source of exposure, I guess.

Mik Aidt:
And how do you package worm juice? Because I imagine you probably put it in plastic bottles. This is right. And we just talked about, we heard Colin explain that Australia has a serious problem with recycling plastic and so on. So how do you approach that whole thing about getting the worm juice out to the customers?

Jason Nicholls:
Yeah, so we actually pride ourselves on that we’re using, well, 90 % of our plastic is recycled. Basically, you know, for our IBC containers, 1,000-letter containers that we all see around the place, we source them locally from food processes that are a single-use thing that may have had a, they’re a food grade, so they may have had a brine solution or a water solution in those, and we collect those. We also have a factory in Melbourne packed group, PACT, which is one of the world’s largest world recyclers of plastic containers. We support those guys monthly. And our 20 litre containers, we source from a single use recycling facility where, yeah, so other than our one litre containers and our five litre containers, everything else has been repurposed and is in, you know, 9.9 out of 10 condition single use.

Colin Mockett:
That’s excellent. And the obvious question now, Jason, is how’s business? Are you making enough or not enough or too much for your supply? Do you have plans to grow?

Jason Nicholls:
Yes, certainly. So at the moment, you know, end of the financial year with, we’ve had a, well, I should wind it back a bit, you know, from the start, which is approximately four years ago, we’ve had year on year growth. And, you know, as more and more people

The biggest driving factor for, let’s say farmers for instance, is the rising costs of urea and synthetic based products, petroleum based products. Also, the availability and having overseas influences that are dictating to us when and how we’ll get products. And it’s funny enough, it always seems at peak growing times for farmers that they seem to hold back with the supply and try and reach a higher dollar.

And then, you know, so they’re controlling all the shots and farmers are getting sick of that. And, you know, they’re looking to control more on farm. So they’re controlling more of their own processes, you know, and to be honest with you, you know, I spoke to a 58 year old farmer yesterday and basically at 58 years old, you know, I’ll be honest with you. And I’ve said this to many farmers.

They’re normally pretty rigid in their ways and they’ve been there and done it, generational farmers and that, but we’re getting more and more of those people that are willing to look at what sort of legacy are they going to leave for their soil, for their farm and what value is their land going to be in 15, 20 years time when they walk away from it or hand it down to their children. So it’s really exciting to see folks of that era that are certainly interested in that. And our main drivers, to be honest with you, are farmers that are probably in their late 20s, early 30s up to about 40, where their folks are handing down the farm bit of a succession plan there. And they know or they believe that synthetics isn’t the way to go. And long-term, it’s certainly a way for a short-term fix. And yes, I respect that farmers have done it one way for most of the time.

But if they have a bit of a look outside and they have the right people around them, it can be achieved. But as we’ve said before, they don’t teach this stuff in uni. So the poor old agronomists and so on, they’re only taught in uni when it comes to ag farming. This is how much lime, this is how much synthetic, this is how much lime, this is how much synthetic. None of these sort of natural sort of sustainable approaches are never discussed in uni. So I do feel that they’re up against it before they start. So right coaching, the right mindset, you know, and of course people can’t afford to take risks. You know, they, you know, they’re, they’re used to an income for so long. And then they’ve got someone telling them, well, you need to have a go at this. And they look at you and they, and they, go, well, hang on. Well, it was a bit risky. I said, well, at some stage, if you know, you need to have a bit of a, you can’t keep going this way and prices going up, you know, the work, the temperatures are going up, the soil is getting more and more depleted and look more and more people are saying that so it is a growing industry at the moment we’re always expanding we we can we have a vision we can see the growth you know the growth and the figures have showed us that the market is there we just got to capture it and and market it and and sort of give give people a bit of a cuddle and sort of be to hold the hand and and sort of walk them through it because that is really lacking there’s not enough people that are willing to think outside the square and help these farmers through it. Cause they just don’t know where to turn to. I can guarantee you now they’re, they’re sitting there going, well, I know this is not right. I know I’ve stuffed my soil. Where do I turn to? They ring the agronomist, nah, sorry, not interested. And then, you know, they’re stuck. So they just keep buying your area and synthetics and same old, same old. If nothing changes, nothing changes. So yeah, we’re keeping up. We’re always growing and the future is exciting for us.

Mik Aidt:
It sounds to me, Jason, like you need a hand from the authorities. Who else? I mean, we have at the highest level, the United Nations warning that, you know, farmers around the world are killing their soils with chemicals. And, and there’s a warning that in 50 years time, we’ll have deserts that used to be farmland. So you would think that the Australian government could play a role here? Do you have any communication with the Australian authorities about getting a helping hand for this?

Jason Nicholls:
Yeah. Look, it’s something that, you know, because obviously at the moment, I believe it’s at state level. So, you know, Victoria, where do you go? I’m led to believe Victoria’s relatively easier to get grants. New South Wales might be a little bit tougher, you know, being in New South Wales… You know, you need a grant, you know, you need a helping hand. Where do I turn to? Like I Google it. You contact the government authorities. You’re sending to get lost in the email chain. It’s hard to pick up a phone and ring anybody. I don’t want to be spending an hour on hold trying to, you know, source this sort of thing. So, you know, you see these things pop up on the internet and on social media, Grant Buddy and all these sorts of things that, you know, we do grant writing and source grants for you at a fee. You know, maybe I have to look at something like that, you know, to facilitate a grant because I’m doing all this self-funded, trying to be cashflow positive, you know, no overdrafts, you know, we’re in my, you know, harder my sleeve. It’s our family’s main main income and you know, I have to mark it hard I have to push hard to get it done. Otherwise, where do I go? What do I do? So we have a mortgage to pay in and everything else So for us at the moment, it’s low overheads. It’s minimising the risk to get by but cheese a grant from somebody would be and very helpful and would help set us up in relation to higher production rates and more marketing and hopefully more support for farmers.

Colin Mockett:
Hey Jason, can I walk you back to the comparison between worm juice or your products and the synthetic products? How does it compare financially? And how does it compare nutritionally on both?

Jason Nicholls:
First and foremost, worm juice is probably classified as a ‘bio-stimulant cum soil amendment’ rather than a fertiliser as such, because of its low nitrogen and phosphorus rates when it’s done naturally. So there is a buildup of potassium through the composting process, which they call humic acid, the humates, which are very beneficial for soil and soil root structure. So, think of worm juice as an activator.

Worm juice will break down clay over 12 months, no problem. And that is done by the bacteria and fungi that are present in the worm juice, they get in and aerate and flocculate the soil to make it more porous, which will then provide better nutrient uptake to the plant. So when you have a more aerated, porous soil, you get less water runoff, which is great to show better moisture absorption.

So what the bacteria do, they’ll travel underground, aerating it, and we’re talking billions of them per square centimetre, like, there’s a lot of them! And they’re just working their way like an underground highway, picking up nutrient, which may be locked up. So let’s think of years of conventional farming, compacted soils, overgrazing, overstocking rates. So what happens is in a cutlery program of worm juice and bio-stimulants and working in some manures and old organic matter, you can build up that microbiome, get some nice soil structure going on top. And with the help of the bacteria, they facilitate that, picking up the nutrient, taking it to the plant, and it goes from there. So as far as nutrient value goes, there’s lots of amino acids in your worm juice, also your trace elements, basically a little bit of potassium.

Like I said before, with our kelp juice, which is becoming more and more, we sell 95 per cent kelp juice to 5 per cent worm juice. And the reasons being is the nutritional value is higher for the plant. And also, you may have heard of kelp and methane reduction in cattle. So that’s been sort of around for the last couple of years floating around. So that has really driven our sales in that area. And what I’m led to believe is that the kelp is better digested in the room and in the first stomach of the cow, you know, one of four stomachs, and will basically digest better, reducing the methane. And then obviously they expel that onto the soil. So you’re getting that byproduct in your paddocks as well. So it’s a bit of a win-win. And, you know, I guess the reports I’m getting back from my farmers now in their cattle, in their sheep, is overall health of the animal is, and the vitality is greatly increased, less disease pressures and less pest attacks on their pastures. Like anything, and it’s no different to humans, to cats, dogs, mice, if you raise your immunity level, you will increase the overall health and function of yourself and you’re better off for it. I think no different to humans. You are what you eat and I’m certainly no role model for that, but certainly if the cattle are eating a nutritious grass that has been laced with a kelp bio-stimulant with sugars and organic inputs compared to a synthetic based petroleum product that has been spread on their paddocks, I can assure you now it has proven that the palatability and production rates have increased with that product as opposed to a synthetic product. But once again, I think if you bought an organic cow to a synthetic paddock, they would not know what to do them themselves and it’d probably make them sick.

Colin Mockett:
And how does the cost stack up?

Jason Nicholls:
The cost per hectare… look, once again, the great thing with worm juice and most bio stimulants is they have an accumulative effect, like compound interest. And it depends on your budget, how poor your soil is, your vision, your legacy. So if you can put it anywhere from five liters per hectare to you know straight so you know five liters at ten dollars a hectare two dollars a liter per for a worm juice so that’s ten dollars a hectare for a slow burn or if you need to really hook into and turn things around you can put it out at 20-30 layers a hectare 50-60 dollars in and you know most farmers are working around that you know obviously as low as possible but anywhere from two to 50 hectare right up to 500-600 a hectare for production so you know it is it is a small fraction of it but, you know, the overall health of the crop is improved and certainly with the compounding effect long term it’s a way better solution. And the synthetic petrochemical will cost how much? Look, there’s a couple of different variants, you know, from MAP, DAP, single super, urea, but typically anywhere around that sort of $800 to $1,100 a tonne and most farmers will put that out anywhere from 200 to 500 kilos a hectare. So, you know, we’re talking $500 a hectare to grow a big crop. But the reality is these petroleum based products require a lot of water. Otherwise they dry out and fizzle. So, you know, if a farmer is counting on rain and they go and load their paddocks up with the urea and they don’t get the 20 mil they were chasing, they get three. Well, and the rain goes around and well that crop is going to starve and most likely wilt.

And then they’ve shot their, yeah, they’ve shot themselves in the foot, I guess. So, and then, yeah, the crops, yeah, will be dying for a and then, and if it doesn’t come, well, they’ve just wasted tens of thousands of dollars where with the worm juice or bio stimulant, there is proven that it will hold on longer your crop in summer, more drought and frost resilient. So it’s the overall outlook rather than that instant psychological hit of, wow, she’s shot up compared to a slow burn, things are building, building, building, getting healthier.

Mik Aidt:
And building the natural resilience, which is an important word in our time, isn’t it?

Jason Nicholls:
It is. So yeah. And look, you know, straight up, you know, when I was, you know, 12 or 18 months in, you know, I couldn’t spook this sort of stuff, but with any sort of evidence. But, you know, now that we’ve got dozens of farmers telling me the same thing, you know, four years in, we’re coming up to our… you know, starting our fifth year in August. I cannot not believe them. They know their land, they know their yields, they know their quality of their grain. And you know, when you’ve got pests and diseases that are literally missing their paddocks and going to their neighbors who are urea based, what else can you say? What else can you put it down to? You know, where, you know, prior history shows that they would have had this particular pest, but for a couple of year program with the worm juice and organic materials, the pests aren’t interested. They don’t want healthy, they’re a pest. You know, they want the immuno-compromise. So, yeah, build your resilience, build your immunity, and it does take care of itself, I can assure you.

Colin Mockett:
Where does your worms come from? Are you using tiger worms?

Jason Nicholls:
Yeah, so, in the composting, what would you say… Yeah, composting worms in Australia are typically made up of your reds and tigers, yes. So your red worms and your tiger worms. They are known for being the most sort of ferocious composters. We do do some European nightcrawler bait worms for the fishermen. They have slower production rates and breeding rates, but they are a big worm and they do command, you know, some of these worms are getting, you know, 40 cents each wholesale per worm – and that’s for a fishing worm. So, but you know, the drawback with those is they’re very slow growing. You’ve got to put 8 or 10 months into them to, you know, it’s a bit like, you know, a potty calf compared to a yearling. You get them when they’re really, really young. You spend all this time getting them where they need to be, and then you flog them off for your price.

But with the composting worms, they double their population every 60 to 90 days, your reds and tigers. So they really go hard, they push through the material. And we breed a lot of our own. When we get low or we need extra support from the worms, we have some suppliers around Victoria and New South Wales that we can purchase from, at a wholesale rate to help us out there. So to keep those productions high.

But honestly, there is a nationwide shortage of worms in Australia. That is a fact. In all worms, fishing worms and composting worms. I can tell you now in Australia, there’s probably only three or four across all of Australia that do, let’s say, more than 10 kilos of worms at a time.

Colin Mockett:
Yet they’ve got a very high reproduction rate, haven’t they?

Jason Nicholls:
Yeah, you know, worm farming is amazing, but when you’re doing large scale and well any scale to be honest, it’s very labor intensive. So the feeding, the taking out the old bedding, the watering, you know, yes, you can, you know, set that up on automation, but certainly it’s very labor. You’ve got to source the input. So a lot of the big farmers will convert, you know, go to the local piggeries or, you know, cattle stations or livestock exchanges and purchase their manure in, you know, B double loads. And they’ll go through a B double a month of manure, you know, to feed their workers. So yeah, quite labor intensive. You’ve got a big equipment if you’re going to do it properly, you know, and a handful of staff and staffing costs as we know post COVID and trying to find the right people is quite hard also.

Colin Mockett:
Can you see yourself in the future not just selling your juices and your products, but also your worms because clearly they’re very happy – and the happy worm is a reproducing worm, isn’t it? You’ll be exporting whole worm farms.

Jason Nicholls:
Absolutely. So yes, after I finish up here, I’ll be going out and I’ll think I’ve got approximately 15 kilos of worms to sell now, to package and post – so that’ll take a good four or five hours of screening the worms off because they’re sold in worm weight. No one’s counting a thousand worms, I can assure you. So basically, it’s done by weight, and it’s worm weight only without any of their bedding material. So you got to use a bright lighting and the sun to screen them off, because they’re allergic to light. So you swipe your hand across and keep swiping every minute and they keep burrowing down in their pile, or on their corrugated tin, until you get to a point where you swipe no more, and you’re just looking at bare worms. And I have a couple of videos of that on our Instagram and Facebook page of that process. And it’s quite illuminating as well.

A lot of gardeners and farmers and worm farmers will tell you that getting your hands in dirty nature and in the soil, it’s very calming and it’s just something about that connection. And I guess, you know, of an afternoon, I’ll go out and feed them, water them, and I just can’t not help get my hands dirty with them and, you know, say good day, I guess.

But yeah, so, we’re selling worms, we’re increasing that. And, you know, Bunnings obviously sell worms, but other than Bunnings, you know, which I know the guys that supply Bunnings, there’s not many commercial size that can sell you more than 10 kilos. So, you know, it is a bit of a good market, but, you know, you’ve got to strap yourself in and commit. You can’t do it half-assed. Otherwise you’ll, yeah, fail.

Colin Mockett:
Yeah, well, look, worms were here before Europeans – and probably before our First Nations people.

Jason Nicholls:
Yeah, I believe so. And, you know, a good yardstick for farmers – and they know this – is when you go out to your paddock and you can do a few shovel, you know, a few tests of yourself, a few shovel loads and you find a handful of worms in each shovel, well, you know that you’re so happy. Worms will not live in an environment where they’re not happy. And if worms are happy, well, the animals are happy, the plants are happy. So if you have worms in your garden or in your, in your paddocks, you’re pretty, you’re pretty well on the mark.

But I can assure you now the synthetic based paddocks, you won’t see a worm. You won’t even be able to dig in the place. It’d be that compacted hard and they’re literally growing in centimetres of, I’m not even going to call it topsoil, I’m going to call it bulldust. But hey, I’m not a farmer per se, I’m only a mere worm farmer, and our farmers do an amazing job and just talking to these folks when you talk to them, they’re up against so many different factors, from whether it be government level or the weather, the wind, overseas influences.

What business model can you relate to where your input costs go up, but your output product prices go down at the same time? Like, I don’t know… Yeah, I don’t want to sound like a know-it-all, but that sounds fairly horrible to me. And farmers are always getting the raw end of the stick. And I never realised how bad they get it, until the last four or five years when I’m dealing with these guys on a daily basis. And I just shake my head and go, you wouldn’t go to an accountant and ask them, you know, how’s this business model look? They just shake their head and go, ‘Mate, what are you doing?’

But you know, they are resilient people. They know what they do, and they do it very well. So they tough it out and they get the job done hoping for those good years. And when those good years come… you know, I remember an old saying from an old sales manager of mine in the ag world, he said to me, ‘If the farmers are getting a feed, everybody’s getting a feed.’ And that is so true. When our farmers are doing well, the whole nation is going well and everyone is happy. So that’s a bit of a yardstick for us as well.

Colin Mockett:
I think also if you’re into agriculture and farming, you are inherently a gambler because you’ve got so many things going against you. You plant a crop and hope for rain.

Jason Nicholls:

Colin Mockett:
What other businesses do you do something with that much hope in mind, except maybe worm farming?

Jason Nicholls:
Yeah, look, I look at the snow industry as well. You know, they’re investing millions and millions as well. And, you know, as climate changes and all these things, like, they’re pouring millions of dollars to keep these facilities going – and it’s a gamble. And, you know, I feel for these businesses that have to live with this stress and anxiety based on the climate.

Look, it’s not for me. It’s certainly… I couldn’t handle that. It’s not something I’d be accustomed to personally, but geez, they have really started to get it now. And any support I can give to farmers and help them, look at more, you know, healthier, sustainable solutions. You know, I’m here for them and, you know, we’re building some really good relationships with clients, with ag consultants, ag scientists that are all on board with us and we’re joining those dots. And that’s our purpose, it is: to join the dots for farmers. If they do want to look outside the square, where do they turn to right now? There’s no one. Their mates laugh at them in the pub. They go, ‘You’re going around the twist.’
‘What do you mean?’ And then so they feel well. ‘Didn’t like that too much. I’ll stick what I’m doing’.

But if they find the right person and they are out there that will help them and help them transition. You can’t go cold turkey. Your soil will not like you if you go cold turkey. It’ll just go into shock, I believe. It’s about drawing back the synthetics transitioning over and then once you know the people that know… I haven’t met anyone in the organic farming or sustainable farming space that is disappointed they made the change. I can assure you of that. They laugh at conventional farming now. And yes, on larger scales, I don’t believe that organic has got it yet. Like, you know, we’re talking 100,000s of hectares, but certainly on smaller acreage, it is doable. It just comes down to the individual’s needs and wants and income, I guess, and what they need to yield to support their enterprise.

Colin Mockett:
Jason, where are you getting your kelp from?

Jason Nicholls:
We source that from a organic company in Queensland.

Colin Mockett:

Jason Nicholls:
Yeah, so it’s a multi-species kelp with three different types of kelp that have basically three different properties and functionalities rather than a single strain. So it is sustainably sourced out of Queensland. And yeah, the results we’ve been getting… As I said, yeah, we’re keeping up at the moment just, but yeah, certainly we’re always, always growing and we’ve already got a plan for this financial year to go to the next level again. So we believe in it. The market’s starting to believe in it and hopefully it becomes more the norm moving forward.

Mik Aidt:
Jason Nicholls, you’ve talked a lot about solutions today in the soil, but has it also somehow opened up a new world for yourself, you know, in terms of understanding nature and working with nature?

Jason Nicholls:
Yes, Mik, it has. And I’ll give you examples of that. So, you know, after talking to these farmers and the influences, well, the external influences, that is whether that comes from overseas, from their local supplier. You know, through non-guarantee of purchasing a product due to high demand and short supply, to also understanding the health of the animal, which then relates to the health of the human if they are consuming that beast. So, you know, our family has always been typically buy your meat from the supermarket, your bread from the supermarket, and so on. And we all know the bakery bread, nothing beats it.

But the… More and more often now, we find ourselves supporting those natural sustainable type farmers, whether that be from your local market or standalone operations that are using pharmaceutical chemical free solutions where they will have no chemical at all on their farm, zero pharmaceuticals for their animals, giving you that real nutrient dense flavor and taste and quality. Yes, that is a cost you would typically pay one and a half times or maybe two times the amount compared to a supermarket, grown product, feed lot of product, but you know, at what cost is your health and yeah, at a time where we’re trying to control our own destiny and post COVID and also control our own inputs. Well, you know, funny enough, I’ve just recently started purchasing from a standalone organic grass-fed butchery. And, you know, I’m getting to understand that. And I’m slowly trying to transition that through my family, who have always been used to that supermarket model. So it’s about knowing where your food comes from. You know, they talk about knowing your farmer and, you know, supporting those enterprises because, yeah, it’s open. I’ve never been a political person. And, you know, when I hear stories about overseas, and we know who they are. We’re not going to mention names, but that are holding back supply of particular products for their own purposes and profiting and dictating to our farmers. It’s really hit home with me. And as I said, that’s enough for me. And, you know, and try to help people control their own house, their own enterprise on farm so they can get on with their business, provide healthy, nutrient dense food and crops and pastures, fruit and veggies without having to worry about government influences, I guess, and overseas. And look, the health of the animal translates into the health of the human. And hopefully, we can see improved health in our society and less reliance upon, once again, pharmaceuticals from the chemist. And I could go on and on about the kelp.

It’s like, humans… A thing came on the news last week – about multivitamins: they’re a waste of money unless you require a specific need, like they said, for mothers-to-be or a particular deficiency. But, you know, buying multivitamins, and taking one a day, thinking you’re doing the right thing. Well, you can throw that out the window. If you can get it in your food, that’s number one.

So that even goes back to your cattle or sheep. If they’re eating the healthy, nutrient dense food, guess what you’re going to be eating. So that’s that’s what sort of has hit home with me the most.

It gives me more and more enthusiasm seeing these older generational farmers that have… I wouldn’t say they’ve woken up, but they’ve just… Something’s just twigged with them and they’ve just gone, ‘This can’t keep going. This is just absolute bollocks! The increases in pricing. And our soil, every year, year on year, is depleting.’ It’s like an addiction. They might put out 100 kilos a hectare this year, next year they need 150, the year after they need 200. It’s like coffee, alcohol or any drug of dependence: the more you have it, the more you need to get the same effect. So it’s all the same.

Mik Aidt:
Thank you very much – and be the solution.

Colin Mockett:
Yes. Worm farm solutions.

Jason Nicholls:
We’re creating a solution, not chemicals.

Neil Young: ‘Natural Beauty’

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