Over the past decades, scientific awareness and appreciation of soil microbiology in agricultural systems has dramatically expanded. Flourishing microbial communities interacting with plant root networks play a direct role in plant growth, crop nutrition, disease and pest resistance, and soil aggregate structure, leading to increased soil oxygen flow and water holding capacity. Unfortunately, many agricultural soils have depleted functioning microbial ecosystems through decades of physical and chemical disturbance. Regenerating these microbial ecosystems is crucial to refocusing agricultural production on soil, human, and environmental health.
One extremely promising method of regenerating soil biology is through the production and application of liquid compost extract. Microbially-rich compost can be produced on-farm from locally-sourced and inexpensive organic materials, through systems such as the Johnson-Su bioreactor process and / or vermicomposting. Vermicompost also includes many naturally-produced bio-stimulants, such as humic and fulvic acids. These compost products, while valuable in solid form, can be extracted into a powerful liquid biological amendment to increase their efficiency and soil infiltration, inoculating beneficial microbes directly into root zones or onto the surfaces of leaves.
In addition to being both biologically beneficial and cost-effective to produce, liquid compost extract is also extremely versatile. Microbial foods, such as blackstrap molasses, kelp, and fish hydrolysate can be added for additional stimulation. Injecting oxygen into the liquid prior to application will activate the microbes and multiply the population (this is often referred to as “compost tea”). Application systems can be tailored to desired effects, including fertigation, soil drenches, soil injections, seed soaking, and foliar sprays. Improving soil biology not only benefits crop production, but also pastures, lawns, and turf, including athletic fields. Here’s a sample operation in New York’s Hudson Valley that uses compost extract for all of the above.
At Hiwassee Products, the goal is to help make this potentially transformative process both scalable and adaptable to a wide array of situations by designing and manufacturing innovative equipment solutions. The Bio-Extractor, released for production in 2022, is the only commercially available continuous-flow compost extractor to date, able to extract at 700 gallons per hour to meet any target volume, large or small. The company will continue to release equipment in the upcoming year, focusing on continuous-flow-through (CFT) vermicomposting systems and biologically-friendly spray systems, which differ from high-pressure chemical applicators. These equipment items can be combined into one closed-loop system (potentially including a pre-composting system to make vermicomposting more efficient), or be used as components of other soil biological management systems.