The 600 million year old technology beneath our feet | Michael Quintern | TEDxTauranga

Translator: hila scherba
Reviewer: Arvind Patil Hi, I’m the guy
who is the in charge of the muck, and boy, do I love muck! But share with me,
why am I a soil scientist? Because that’s what I’ve been training
and what I’ve done for the last 25 years, has become so attached to muck, though I believe sometimes
that the muck is more attached to me, but that’s another story. Imagine, I would offer you a block of land
for your garden, your orchard, or your farmland, and actually it’s two blocks of land
but you have to choose one. So you can either choose
the one on the right side, or the one on the left side, so please raise your arm if you had chosen
the one on the left side, no one, whose choosing the block of land
with the soil type on the right side? Everyone. I’d assume you’re all choosing
the one on the right side, because it’s a black soil, and we all associate black soils
to be more fertile and productive, grow healthier food, and higher yields. So why is it? Why are black soils
so much more productive? The black stuff on the soil
is called by soil scientists as humus. Humus is part of the organic matter,
and the organic matter matters soils. It’s a Petri of the soil,
it’s stores the water, and the nutrients. It feeds a soil organism, and it helps keeping
our ground water clean. It’s the heart and soul of our soils. Unfortunately, most of the soils
on our planet are like the ones on the left side. These soils are lacking of organic matter, and so they can’t hold enough water,
and they can’t hold the fertilizer. To improve the productivity of these soils we need to increase the humus content
of these soils. So how do we do this? How do we get the humus level
of these soils up? Let’s have a look at how nature does it, what ingredients does nature use
to build humus? Nature uses plant residues,
there is a straw, leaves, roots, and these plant residues
are used by the micro-organisms to produce humus. And nature uses muck. The muck organism need muck
to digest the straw and to turn it into a high quality humus. So if you and I, if we want to produce
vast volumes of humus to put back to our soils, we need vast volumes of more muck, and plant residues. So if we start looking around, we will see wherever in the world
that we are growing plants, either for food, fodder,
energy crops, or fiber, and when we are processing and consuming
those plants and plant materials we create by-products,
we call them organic waste and we usually push those in valleys
called landfills. For example, New Zealand’s
center North Island is known as ‘The Wood Basket’. We have a lot of paper and pulp mills
and a lot of corment in the region, and these are producing
250,000 tons of fibers waste. And all through the region we are producing
in our primary industries, agriculture and horticulture, a lot of food, like:
milk, fruits, vegetables and meat, and these products are processed
for exporting, but also for consuming in our communities. When we are processing and consuming
these food material we are producing another by-product,
which is a muck-like waste, and this is generated
in our waste waster treatment plants, and this is another 250,000 tons
produced in our region. So all together, we are producing half a million tons
of organic waste in our region. If we would put all this onto trucks, it will be 50,000 trucks of waste
we are producing, and how long do you believe
would such a convoy be? If we would start in Wellington,
in front of the houses of parliament, this convoy would come up to Te Tauranga
going up to Auckland’s harbor, and then the trucks have to turn around
and come back, build a double lane of trucks
coming back to Tauranga, and going all the way back to Wellington, and when the first truck arrives in front of the office
of our Prime Minister, the last truck had just left Wellington,
this is 1,500 kilometer long convoy, and all this material
has been pushed into landfills producing Methane
and contributing to the global warming. But, this is 500,000 tons
of fiber and muck. We so urgently need
to produce humus for our soils, so can’t we just take this waste
and put it onto farmland? Adding organic matter, producing humus,
and increasing the productivity. It is not so easy. Because if you take
the fiber onto farmland, it’s just Carbon, and the carbon actually, if a farmer puts it on land
it would absorb all the nutrients. try to grow a plant
from a pile of soil carbon, it doesn’t work,
and that”s why farmers are not doing it. And the muck? The muck is so wet, it’s stinks,
it contains E-coli and Salmonella, and sometimes it’s very acidic,
and it would turn the soil acidic, and that’s why hardly any farmers use it,
it’s very difficult to handle. So the solution would be
to combine the fiber and the muck, and reproduce a product
everyone would want to put onto the soil. So we needed to find
the technology to do this, and this technology needed to be economic,
it needs to be safe and easy to operate, it need to reduce the volume
significantly, so it’s easy to transport to the farmers, and it need to create a product
that everyone wants to buy. We could use composting, everyone knows composting and composting
is worldwide and it’s doable. But these materials are very wet, they’re too wet for composting,
it needs de-watering and drying first. composting needs to be turned
during the time, so that’s all very costly, and compost reduce the volume
only by one third, so two thirds need to be carried away
to the farmers. So very costly doable. We had wanted a better technology. And, we found the technology,
and it’s quite an amazing technology. It fits into a five centimeter long tube,
so actually the size of this pencil. So what does this technology do? This technology sucks in the wet material,
no demand, entity demand, for de-watering, there’s a micro grinder in here,
like a stone mill, that grinds down the fiber
and mixes the fiber with a nutrients rich muck
from our waste-water treatment plants, by doing so, it increases
the surface area of the material, easier to decompost. Further down the track of the tube,
E-coli and Salmonella are destroyed, they are actually replaced
with good and beneficial bacterias who makes plants to grow even better. There’s no need
for turning of this technology, this technology does it itself; It comes for free. The volume adapter is 80%; Only 20% needs to be taken to farmland. Finally, when it’s compressing the product
it’s creating micro-pellets. And last but not least,
these pellets are coated, wrapped up like a birthday present
for the farmers. This coating prevents, or protects, the micro-pellets
from the first heavy rain after application to land and soil. And as a soil scientist, I was working
on this technology all my time. Boy, what an amazing technology. And this 5 centimeter long technology
is called an Earthworm. This is a 600 million years old
technology. It’s updated the heart and software
with every generation of worms, several times a year, much more often than any of the apps
on your mobile. So you are saying – “Michael, you seriously want to put
500,000 ton through an Earthworm?” And this is exactly the same reaction
we received from councils and industries, and they said: “Michael, you need to prove this to us.
We don’t believe you.” And we did. And this is how it looks like. You need to now one amazing thing
about worms – they can eat their body weight a day. But we would still need a lot of worms
to process all this waste. But worms are great. They love sex, and they multiply, they double their population
within two months. Six years ago we started
with 20 buckets of worms, today, we would need 41 trucks, if all of our most valuable employees
would take a day off, which they never do, because we provide them
with the very best, and the very best is free food, the organic waste
we are putting in the landfill, so far, they get free drinks, natural rain water, we have a nice event center,
which is the muck they’re diving through, and we get some music, oh, no, that’s for the truck drivers,
not for the worms. But if you look closer to this image, don’t you have the impression, as I do,
that there’s a big party going on here? These worms, our employees,
celebrate in a party 24/7 365 days a year, for the next 600 million years, hopefully, and the great thing about these worms – they don’t leave any waste behind,
as we do, not today, hopefully. If we look at our worms, they are celebrating their party
on 60 hectare of land, that’s an area of a 120 football fields, or 15 million times
of what you can see on the screen. We are feeding 410 tons of waste
to the worms everyday, this is a volume of 150,000 tons
of organic waste already, so one third of our target, and this, we believe,
this is the largest worm farm, we are hosting here in New Zealand,
of the world. These worms are turning this 150,000 tons
into 30,000 tons of micro-pellets, or worm poo, or Vermicast and Vermicompost
how it’s called. If you hold Vermicast in you hand
it’s fluffy, it feels dry, it smells like forest soil,
it’s easy to spread, and your hands stay clean,
thanks to the coating. But what soil scientists and me
likes most about Vermicast – It contains plant growth promoters. These are enzymes and humic acids
produced by the worms and the bacteria, the beneficial bacteria, that trigger plants
to grow more and deeper roots. Plants are growing healthier,
and they grow higher yields. Boy, do farmers love Vermicompost. And deeper roots
and more humus in your soil actually makes less nutrients
leaving the root zone and getting into the ground water, like Nitrate, which means less nutrients
going into the ground water and our natural water,
means less of this muck, algae and lake weeds
growing in our eutrophic waters. Boy, do I hate swimming in this muck. Humus and Vermicast allow farmers
to manage their soil more sustainable and economical. The benefit for us
are clean rivers and lakes, Vermicomposting is a technology
that benefits soil, it doesn’t deplete soils. It’s fully scalable; You can do it for one tea bag a day, or you can do it
for more the 400 tons a day. It doesn’t require much capital, you don’t need a 30 million dollar plant
to process organic waste. It can take a whole community
to an organic waste community by upsiding organic waste to Vermicompost. If you want to join
the worm farm party today, think about your organic leftovers. Are they already going back to soil? Transform the soil of your garden,
your orchard and your farm, to a more humus rich soil using Vermicast
or other organic fertilizers. Change your household, your neighborhood,
your local school, your cafe, your office, your cooperation, or your community. Thrive to a 100% organic back to soil. If vermicomposting
is a solution of organic waste management, I’m less concern
about polluting our ecosystem or depleting our soils. I would rather see global worming,
than global warming. Thank you very much! (Applause)

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