The future of insect farming looks encouraging with significant improvements in supporting large-scale operation at sector level as well as supplying a range of beneficial products that will take part in ensuring a resource efficient global food production system. For the coming decades, insects as feed products will likely be dominating.
Lars-Henrik Lau Heckmann
Head of Business Development
Better Insect Solutions
Although it has been 10 years since the international ‘birth’ of insect farming, the sector has only just started to set its mark as being commercially interesting for the stakeholders involved. Yet, the industry is maturing fast and a view of how the future sector may look like is already emerging. Throughout the value chain new companies and research organizations are continuously joining in all the segments from established sectors like conventional animal farming, feed and food production as well as waste management. This diversification and specialization is crucial to ensure a future robust ecosystem for insect farming. In many ways, the evolution of the ‘sectorial infrastructure’ that is going on in the insect industry resembles what we have experience with other animal farming in recent decades. Initially, all insect farmers were so-called full-liners that covered all life stages of the insect species they produced. In recent years, this has become differentiated with decentralization of the production chain amongst a broad selection of companies that are now focusing either on breeding or rearing of both black soldier flies and mealworms. Onwards, we will likely have both decentralized and centralized types of operation as there is a tendency for development of very large farms (+30,000 t larvae/year) globally. These massive farms strongly rely on supply security both regarding feeding substrates and insect livestock. Hence, they opt for a full-line version of insect farming although the various sections (breeding, hatchery, nursery and rearing) on the farm may be clustered and separated to ensure biosecurity. Moreover, the large-scale farms also have the needed economy of scale that enables them financially to be full-liners. Alternatively, decentralized insect farming can de-risk their investment and operational complexity by specializing on e.g. rearing.
This diversity in type of farms and operational sizes facilitates the possibility to apply a myriad of different business models. Currently, there is a range of business models globally that at their core have a similar approach based on bioconversion of by-products. The feeding substrate can be obtained from one or several external suppliers, utilization of own residual biomass from other activities, collected by the insect farming company themselves (e.g. waste managing) or directly sourced from a neighbouring feed or food company. This model can be executed as a full-line or rearing facility in combination with other inputs (e.g. energy integration with biogas). The output can likewise result in a variety of different products. This may include on-site processing of the larvae to protein meal and oil sold for application in industrial animal feed, or food, formulations. Alternatively, the larvae are used on-farm as feed for existing animal farming (e.g. aquaculture or poultry production). Apart from the larval product, there are also a range of different applications for the insect frass that can be used either in fertilizer, for biogas or as energy source.
In the future, we will surely see a higher level of integration of insect farming with several other production systems (e.g. energy production, plant production and other animal farming) creating large hubs of industrial symbiosis or production ecosystems with insects as a critical component. This concept can become a key approach to applying an efficient way of utilizing our resources by lowering the loss between interphases as well as being an effective system that enables optimal conversion, ultimately supporting a lower carbon footprint of our food production system.