There’s an unassuming factory in Langley, B.C., where thousands of tonnes of premium protein are being produced every year using neither land nor water.
Welcome to the world’s largest insect farm — and the future of food. Or, at least, the future of feed.
And that future is coming to Alberta next year, when Enterra Feed Corporation starts building an 180,000-square-foot production facility in Balzac, just north of Calgary.
“We have limited resources and a growing population, so when we think about the future of food, we’re looking at insects,” said Victoria Leung, the company’s manager of marketing and operations.
“Right now, over two billion people around the world already eat insects as part of their regular diet. In North America, that trend hasn’t really caught on quite yet, so we’re targeting the feed industry.”
The insect ingredient market has exploded since Enterra began producing and processing black soldier fly larvae as a protein source four years ago. The global insect ingredient sector is expected to top out at over $1 billion in revenues a year by 2022, and insect meal could replace up to 300 million tonnes of other animal feeds.
And with good reason — as livestock producers face the prospect of producing more food with less land and water, they’ll need to get creative to increase their production.
Insect-based feed seems to fit the bill.
Black soldier fly larvae (Enterra’s preferred species, though there are others) can be produced in the billions in a relatively small square footage using food waste from the produce supply chain. But more importantly, they’re highly digestible, palatable, and rich in protein — three key feed attributes.
In a 2014 study by the Food and Agriculture Organization, researchers found that between 25 and 100 per cent of soymeal or fishmeal in the diets of chicken, pigs, and certain species of fish could be replaced with insect meal with no adverse effects.
“Feed manufacturers are looking for sustainable alternatives and ingredients that are in tune with what livestock would eat in the wild. Insects are a natural fit,” said Leung.
Despite the many benefits of insects as a feed source, regulatory hurdles have slowed the growth of the industry, and right now, Enterra is one of only a few companies that are mass producing insects for the feed industry.
“There are a few other players out there who are also trying to produce insects on a large scale, but supply right now in the industry is constrained because we are relatively new,” said Leung.
“It’s going to take some time for us to gain scale.”
That scale-up will start next year for Enterra, with the construction of the $30-million facility in Balzac. Two similar facilities will follow — Vancouver in 2020 and Ohio the following year. Once completed, they will produce commercial-level quantities of premium protein for the aquaculture, pet food, and livestock industries across North America.
“The demand is gigantic. We’re really seeing the market take off with our insect products being a novel protein source,” said Leung. “The feed industry is massive, and if we do see the trend for human food take off in the insect space, that’s something we’ll be targeting as well.
“The possibilities are endless. We’re just getting started.”