Kennedy: Agribusiness and black soldier fly larvae

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The black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) isn’t particularly glamorous, sometimes described as wasp-like without the sting. But whole factories are being built around the insect to produce a protein-rich feed additive for farm-raised animals and fish.

The latest one, the world’s biggest, will rise in central Illinois adjacent to Archer-Daniels-Midland Co.’s corn-processing complex in Decatur. The owner/operator will be InnovaFeed, a French biotech company that already has two factories devoted to black soldier flies and projects 10 others by 2030.

The Illinois plant will be Innova’s first venture outside France. There, it will grow and harvest black soldier fly larvae to produce dry feed additive, oil additive, and frass, or fly waste, used as a soil fertilizer.

Anticipated by 2024, the plant will be built not only on ADM land, but also will use byproducts from the corn-processing facility next door to “feed” the fly larvae. ADM, one of the world’s leading animal nutrition companies, will supply waste heat and steam to power the factory, too.

Clement Ray, co-founder and president of Innova, and Darren Streiler, managing director of ADM Ventures, the company’s venture capital arm, talked about insect protein and the Illinois factory at a webinar earlier this month hosted by The Food Institute.

Innova isn’t the only company focused on the black soldier fly as the perfect insect to produce feed additive; a handful of others are, too. Academic papers also rhapsodize about the fly and the voracious appetite of its larvae for a wide variety of organic waste, which it then turns into usable protein and fat.

A case study published in November by The Rockefeller Foundation on a program to train small farmers in Kenya to produce the additive for their own use described the process: Fly eggs are put in tent-like structures with organic waste to incubate for a few days; when they hatch, the larvae begin to feed on the waste immediately. After about two weeks, 80% to 90% of the larvae are harvested to become feed additive; the remainder grow into flies to repopulate the colony, laying eggs before dying that starts the process all over again.

At Innova’s factories, the process is highly automated in tall “vertical farms” where sensors measure and control temperature and humidity to optimize growing conditions – and more than 20,000 fly eggs are collected every second “without human intervention.”

The company, founded in 2016, sees its work as “unlocking the potential of insects” as demand for high-quality protein grows to feed a world population of 10 billion by 2050, according to a slide presented by co-founder Ray during the webinar.

ADM’s Streiler also noted that insect protein can offer “stability” in pricing versus soy, for example, which because it is used not only in feed but also in biofuel, can be more volatile.

“Insect protein has an ability to have very consistent, very stable, forecastable pricing,” he said.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

Categories: Business, News

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