The Colorado-based company is in the process of scaling up into commercial production its insect-meal-based poultry feed followed by an eventual move into aquaculture feeds, said Phil Taylor, CEO and co-founder. The project started as a way to address sustainability in animal production and reduce the reliance on fishmeal in feed.
“We find food waste, we feed it to insects, the insects become an animal feed and what they leave behind becomes fertilizer,” he told FeedNavigator. A goal of the process was to establish a more circular protein production system with little waste generated, he added.
“There’s an increase in [fishmeal] price in the last decade and it’s creating an economic space for a lot of cool proteins to emerge – algae, bacteria, fungi – all sorts of interesting protein and feedstuffs.”
Use of insects as a protein source also fits that model, he added.
The insect meal generated has about 42-45% protein and 30-35% fat content with little ash, and a good amino acid profile, he said. “We’re excited about the nutritional content we’re seeing, and now it’s how do we mix it into feeds,” he added.
Development and production
The company is starting to raise capital to move from its current pilot facility into one with the ability for commercial level production, said Taylor. Much of the funding initially will go for equipment to automate parts of production.
“We’re trying to string together pieces of equipment that do a lot of that for us and keep overhead costs low,” he said.
The initial commercial facility is set to be able to manufacture feeds and will house the needed insect population, said Taylor. When at full speed, a process expected to take about two years, it would process about 15 tons of food waste a day.
However, more work is needed to develop the most efficient expansion model and to integrate with a food waste producer, he said.
Currently, the pilot plant manages about 400lb of food waste a week, he said. The material is collected from several area companies and fermented or pickled before being given to the insects.
Mad Agriculture also is running research trials looking at poultry production using an insect feed compared to those made with more traditional feed ingredients, he said. “It’s designed to push for FDA approval, because [insect feed] is not approved yet for chickens at a federal level,” he added.
Part of the work to be done in the next year will be to push for regulatory approval for the insect-based feed ingredient, said Taylor.
By next year, the company is planning to be in the new facility and producing about half a ton of insects daily, said Taylor. It also is anticipating have a boutique poultry feed line established at that point.
“Our focus over the next two years it to enter that market really strong – growing into the holy grail of commercial production in three to five years realistically,” he said.
One longer-term goal of the work with insect larva and the generation of poultry feed will be to move into production of aquaculture diets, said Taylor. “It’s our end goal, so I’m not losing sight of that, but it’s going to take a while to get there,” he added.
If efforts go as planned, the company may be starting to produce aquaculture feeds in several years, he said.
“I’m trying not to delude myself in the reality of pushing into that market - we’ll be working on it in parallel but it requires bottom level pricing, and it’s hard to hit that with where fishmeal is,” he said. “Fishmeal is cheap relative to what you can do with novel ingredients.”
It is also looking to produce feeds for other monogastric animals, said Taylor. “As we expand in the future, rather than wholesaling insects, we see ourselves being a feed company that uses insects as the differentiator,” he added.
Prior to production however, more work needs to be done to use efficiency in material handling and production, said Taylor.