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No Such Thing as Plant Waste

How much organic matter ends up in the landfill? According to the EPA, municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States accounting for 14.5% of methane emissions in 2020.

Charles Smith and Dr. Victoria Holden, co-founders of Imio, see this as a lost opportunity. Imio is a regenerative agriculture biotech company on a mission to transform organic residuals, otherwise known as "waste", into a positive economic benefit for farmers and the environment. They offer microbial inoculants that replace chemical inputs in agriculture.


One season’s “waste” becomes a source of nutrients for the next season! In this week's The Grower and The Economist episode, we catch a glimpse into Imio's research and scientific process.


The research:

Chris's background is in economics and psychology. Victoria's background is in microbiology in immunology. They were both up for a challenge and started studying the interaction between microbes in cannabis, which is known to have woody properties due to a molecule called lignin. There was not a lot of research at this time due to it being illegal to grow up until 2014. The Imio team has since expanded to gardening plants, such as tomatoes, and commercially grown crops, such as rye and corn. They received a grant from National Science Foundation to continue their research at University of Vermont and are now exploring distribution options using a free dry process called lyophilization. Chris explained that this involves controlling temperature and pressure surrounding the microbial consortia to freeze off the water without the cells exploding!


The science:

They offer two products that are both used to recapture nutrients.

  1. Re-Gen is a consortium of microbes designed to degrade plant material and return nutrients back to soil more efficiently. Victoria explained the three functional groups - microbes that release the nutrients from the plan, acid producers, and plant microbes that help expedite the bioavailable nutrient process.

  2. Root is a natural alternative to synthetic hormones to help form symbiotic relationships with the plant and develop stronger roots. It can be used during propagation where cuts can be dipped directly into Root. It can also be watered in to "supercharge" the microbiome during transplant time.


“Happy roots make happy shoots” - Peter


Frequently Asked Question - Why its different than compost?

Compost invites microbial communities to do the work of breaking down organic matter. It balances carbon and nitrogen inputs, moisture, and oxygen (aerobic). Imio introduces anaerobic microbes that eliminate the traditional thermophilic compost process, similar to Bokashi or anaerobic fermentation.


It is clear how conscious the Imio team is of the resources that that go into cultivation as they referred to improving efficiency through reduced maintenance and future steps of suppressing pathogens. You can find more information about their research and products at Imio.co.


Listen to the full podcast and catch weekly episodes on all farming topics here.

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