Breeding better waste munching flies
James Cook University scientists are researching how to breed better waste munching flies so that the larvae will be used as a sustainable protein source for pets and agricultural and aquaculture animals.
JCU’s Professor Kyall Zenger is the leader of a project in collaboration with Flyfarm Queensland to solve the challenges facing the industrial scale-up of Australian Black Soldier Fly (BSF) farming.
He said as the human population grows to an estimated 9.7 billion by 2050, so do concerns regarding the sustainability of animal food production and waste management.
“Conventional protein feed ingredients for animal feeds will become increasingly unsustainable as traditional protein ingredients such as soybean meal and fishmeal are further constrained. Some studies predict these resources peaking within five years,” said Professor Zenger.
He said to meet growing demand the mass-rearing of insects for animal feed has gained worldwide attention due to their high-nutritional value and rapid biomass generation.
“Substituting soybean and fishmeal protein components in animal feed with insect biomass, (in this case BSF larvae), produced from efficient bioconversion of organic waste, (including the eating of animal waste), is a promising solution to the problem,” said Professor Zenger.
“If you look across horticulture, food and beverage manufacturing and retail there is a giant opportunity to do better with waste - to reduce landfill & emissions and generate value by producing sustainable locally-produced protein to feed pets and aquaculture,” said FlyFarm Co-Founder Constant Tedder.
Professor Zenger said BSF larvae are voracious feeders on organic matter of both plant and animal origin and their remarkable efficiency at recycling nutrient-poor matter into high-yield protein and fat has attracted much commercial interest.
“The future potential value of insect-derived inputs is estimated to exceed $875 million per annum in Australian feedstock, $90 million per annum in Australian pet food and contribute significantly to recycling in the Australian organic waste sector valued at $3.1 billion annually,” said Professor Zenger.
But he said there is exciting potential to further improve the performance of this method of bioconversion through research.
“In partnership with FlyFarm Queensland, what we aim to do is understand BSF genetics so we can manage genetic resources on farm and be able to predict genetic merit and understand the effects of diet. We are also developing Near-Infra-Red technology as a rapid protein and fat phenotyping tool,” said Professor Zenger.
The Federal Government’s Australian Research Council has awarded the project a Linkage Grant of more than $600,000.
“The ultimate objective is the long-term growth and competitive advantage of the Australian insect farming industry, as well as promoting the benefits of a circular economy through bioconversion of organic waste into commercially viable products,” said Professor Zenger.
“We are hugely excited and proud to be collaborating with Professor Zenger and his team at JCU. We see the potential for insect farming to become a major new high tech agricultural industry in Australia,” said Mr Tedder.
The project will run for three years.
In the latest round of funding, the Australian Research Council has approved more than $29 million for 61 grants for Linkage Projects over the next five years. The projects will also receive an additional $59 million in cash and in-kind support from more than 200 partner organisations.
FlyFarm is a Queensland based scale-up partnering with agribusinesses, food processors, food and beverage manufacturing companies, retailers and municipalities to build biorefineries to upcycle their organic waste, generate value and reduce emissions.
FlyFarm generates sustainable, traceable, Australian-grown insect protein for pet food and aquaculture feeds.
Professor Kyall Zenger
Constant Tedder (FlyFarm, Brisbane)