The Chirp on Cricket Farms: Profitability and Struggles.
Nov 29, 2016
As I became more and more interested in entomophagy and sustainability, I wanted to know more details about how insects are harvested. So I did what most people do now days; I Googled it. But beyond that I also contacted some owners of cricket farms. They were extremely useful for gaining a better understanding of the industry. As the title indicates this post focuses on cricket farms. I was ultimately surprised to find out the high profitability and some struggles that most cricket farms face.
Measuring, packaging, watering, feeding, and poo removal are just some of the daily activities of a cricket farmer. On an episode in season 7 of Dirty Jobs, Mike Rowe experiences work in a Georgia cricket farm. Though the farm sells crickets for pet food and for fishing, it looks very similar to those for human consumption. According to the USDA, crickets are not required to be treated as food (for humans) until after they are completely frozen (the way to euthanize them). Below is a photo of Mike with baby crickets from Discovery.com. Crickets have a life span of about 6 weeks and each female lays approximately 5 eegs each day.
Surprisingly their waste, poo, is collected not for disposal but to be sold as fertilizer. Cricket waste has some awesome benefits for a fertilizer. It’s chemical-free, high in nitrogen, contains vitamin C, and also some minerals. The band CricketPoo below claims that the cricket waste is their best seller for plant fertilizer. This brand of poo is harvested from the Georgia farm mentioned above. For a 5 lb bag the price is $9. That’s over $2 a pound! I think that it’s awesome that the poo makes a great fertilizer and is sold as such instead of disposing it. Keep in mind that selling poo requires an annual license which costs about $70.
As mentioned in an early post, cricket powder (ground up 100% crickets) is expensive. Here are some of the equipment needed to breed crickets at a farm. Bins for a habitat, nets so they don’t escape, food and water, energy cost associated with heating the building, ovens for roasting, a mill or some other way to grind them up, packaging, and of course labor. Cricket farming is labor intensive. Besides feeding them you have to harvest their eggs and transport them to a warmer room. The way to harvest the eggs now.
Did you know that there are many types of crickets. Someone who wants to start a cricket farm has to think about this. A popular choice for cricket farmers is Acheta domesticus, aka house cricket. One reason for this is because this species has no restrictions or licensing requirements to transport across state lines. Bellow is a picture of Acheta domesticus. Another specie used is the Gryllodes sigillatus, aka the tropical banded cricket. These two species have similar nutritional profiles.
The crickets have to be comfortable and happy. If not, then their breeding will be significantly lower. A cricket farmer know if the crickets are happy from the chirping sound from a male calling a female to mate.
Another struggles for a cricket farm is confusion on what they can and can not do. No US government agency have a specific set of standards. In fact, it’s still up in the air on what agency is going to oversea crickets. Right now it looks like it’s between the FDA and USDA.
Discovery Channel. Dirty Jobs, season 7, episode 15. 2009. http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/dirty-jobs/videos/cricket-farmer/ Accessed 13 Nov 2016.
Healthy crickets. http://www.healthycrickets.com/buy_organic_fertilizers/buy_organic_fertilizers.htm Accessed 13 Nov 2016.