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Diversifying into insect farming: Insights from Pig & Poultry Fair 2024

Date Published: 22/05/2024

Insect farming can provide an opportunity to upcycle protein from organic waste back into the food system. Speaking at the 2024 British Pig & Poultry Fair, Thomas Farrugia from Beta Bugs and Larry Kotch from Flybox shared insights into some of the insect genetics and technologies that are available to farm businesses considering diversifying into insect farming.

What type of insects can be farmed?

Globally, many types of insects are farmed for human consumption and animal feeds. These include honeybees, cochineal beetles, cockroaches, silkworms, waxworms, mealworms, buffalo worms, lac insects and crickets. In the talk at Pig & Poultry Fair, Thomas Farrugia focused on the black soldier fly, an insect species which can be put in feed for aquaculture, poultry, pigs and pet food.

Black soldier fly

Black soldier fly larvae contain 40-50% protein, making them an excellent alternative protein source for animal feed. Black soldier flies have a linear lifecycle which starts with the laying of eggs, which hatch into larvae, which develop into pupae before hatching as an adult fly. It is the larval stage that provides the protein source, so when farming them it is important not to let them develop into the pre-pupal stage.

The larvae are omnivorous and can be fed various food or agricultural wastes as feedstock. They also produce frass, which is a dry and odour free manure which can benefit plant health. Potential markets for frass include garden centres, horticulture and regenerative farmers.  

Uses of black soldier fly larvae

Black soldier fly larvae can be fed live to poultry as a supplement to boost welfare, as it enables the birds to exhibit the foraging and pecking behaviours which are natural to them. The larvae can also be used to replace soya in animal feed diets. Nutritionally, black soldier fly larvae offer a balanced amino acid profile, high levels of calcium and phosphorus and are also natural probiotics. They are also hypoallergenic, which creates opportunities for black soldier fly larvae producers to access premium prices by selling into the pet food market.  

Producing black soldier fly larvae

Speaking at Pig & Poultry 2024, Larry Kotch explained how black soldier fly larvae can be produced on-farm in modular batch development systems. In these systems, the eggs are hatched and delivered to the farm as juvenile larvae, which are then reared in growing boxes arranged in a vertical system for seven days, at which point they are ready to be separated from the frass and delivered to the customer.

How the feedstock is presented is important. The larvae have small mouths, meaning the particle size must be small and it also needs to be moist and as consistent as possible to enable them to feed at a fast rate. Pre-consumer byproducts such as brewers’ grains, dairy byproducts and vegetable byproducts are all suitable feedstocks.    

Environmental benefits

Black soldier fly larvae can be classed as a low carbon protein source for two reasons. Firstly, they can reduce demand for soya protein for animal feed, which in turn reduces deforestation for soya production. Secondly, by feeding organic waste to larvae emissions from food waste are reduced while nutrients are upcycled back into the food system.

Click here to find out more about the systems that can used on-farm to rear black soldier fly larvae, or find out about genetics to optimise production efficiency here.