Black Soldier Fly Farming: How it works

10 min read

Welcome to the intriguing world of Black Soldier Fly farming, where innovation meets sustainability to bring a welcome change to the world of protein production.

Written by Larry Kotch

Table Of Contents

In this article, we’ll answer all your questions regarding BSF farms: how do they operate? What’s the best way to use them to optimise waste management and circular agriculture? Do they have what it takes to reshape the global food industry… and make you a profit? If you are ready to uncover all the secrets of BSF farming and its transformative impact on our planet, read on.

What is a Black Soldier Fly?

The Black Soldier Fly (also known as Hermetia illucens), is a medium-sized fly of the family Stratiomyidae, characterised by its sleek black exterior and robust appearance. Common in most parts of the world, you would be wrong underestimating it – the Black Soldier Fly is not your ordinary insect! 

Since the late 20th century, this humble fly has been playing a vital role in sustainable agriculture, circular waste management and alternative protein production.

With a rapid lifecycle and voracious appetite, the Black Soldier Fly larvae gain up to 5,000 times their own body weight in a couple of weeks and efficiently convert organic waste (including kitchen scraps and manure) into a nutritious alternative protein and frass (a natural fertiliser). 

Harnessing the power of nature’s most efficient decomposer, the Black Soldier Fly farming offers a promising solution to global waste management challenges while paving the way for a more sustainable and circular future.

BSF Production

Black Soldier Fly (BSF) production has emerged as a revolutionary solution to global waste management and protein scarcity challenges. With an estimated annual farming of ~200-300 billion individual BSFs, this insect holds immense potential for sustainable agriculture and animal feed industries. The insects-as-feed sector is poised for significant growth, with projections indicating trillions of additional farmed-insect lives and deaths within the next decade or so. From 2015 to 2020, investments in insect farming skyrocketed, surging from ~10-20 million to over 400 million USD per year. Currently, demand for mass-produced insect protein, primarily used in farmed animal and pet feed, stands at approximately 10,000 metric tons. However, by 2030, this demand is expected to skyrocket to as high as 500,000 metric tons, potentially scaling up to over 1 million metric tons within the next five years. The global expansion of the insect-as-food-and-feed industry is evident, with major producers situated in Europe, North America, and China, plans underway for multiple production facilities worldwide and new actors looking for versatile solutions to make insect farming a feasible reality in the Global South and the rest of the world.

How does the Black soldier fly farming work?

BSF larvae production: Technology and Infrastructure 

Black Soldier Fly (BSF) larvae production involves several key technologies and infrastructure components to ensure efficient and sustainable farming practices. 

Necessary technology usually fall into three main categories: 

  1. Waste-processing equipment, to prepare the substrata that will feed the insects;
  2. Controlled environment equipment, to maintain optimal environmental conditions (such as 70% humidity and 27 degrees Celsius heat) given that BSF thrive in tropical climates;
  3. Post-processing equipment, like dryers, shredders or oil-pressers, to kill and prepare the insects to be sold as alternative protein.

When it comes to infrastructure instead, a BSF farm usually presents various sections, each dedicated to a phase of the workflow and life-cycle of the insect. These usually are:

  • Breeding area, allowing plenty of room and optimal conditions for the insects to lay eggs;
  • Hatching area/nursery, where eggs hatch over several days onto a nutritious starter feed and emerge as juvenile BSF ‘Seedlings’
  • Waste processing areas, where organic waste is processed into a porridge like sludge ideal for fast BSF processing
  • Growing area, where the seedlings can feed on the waste substrate and mature to adult larvae
  • Killing and post-processing area, where the larvae are neutralised, sieved from their frass an then go on for drying, defatting and grinding depending on the product requirement of the factory

Most of the time, insects are grown in trays. This allows for better control of the colony, in particular considering that insects tend to follow each other and clump when left in less contained environments, such as big pits or troughs. Alternative methods to trays are conveyors and bioreactors.

While building an insect farm requires comprehensive solutions for each and every step, advancements in the industry allow for a certain level of outsourcing, reducing like this the overall technological footprint. 

Farms can be established within large indoor buildings, in outdoor polytunnels, if the climate is favourable (like in the global South) or in shipping container insect factories with climate control systems for a more versatile solution. Before choosing one over another, it is important to consider many factors, including the geographical location and climate conditions, the local waste-processing requirements and the available automation level and the desired type of insect product.

Growing black soldier flies in a container

Growing black soldier flies in containers offers numerous advantages due to their mobility, modularity, and efficient use of resources. With the appropriate climate control equipment, container-based farming can be remarkably energy-efficient,as it leverages the density of insects, utilising their natural body heat effectively. During pilot stages, this approach offers flexibility and ease of experimentation for insect farming enthusiasts and professionals alike. However, thanks to the ‘building-block’ logic, containers offer the chance for a seamless transition to a bigger scale, depending on the necessity of the business.

Why is black soldier fly important in insect farming?

The Black Soldier Fly (BSF) stands out as the most popular farmed insect compared to other options due to its superior attributes. It boasts the highest Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR), ensuring efficient conversion of feed into biomass. Additionally, BSF has a remarkably short lifecycle development time, making it a rapid source of protein, and a low pathogen risk, reducing the likelihood of disease transmission. In terms of nutritional content, BSF larvae offer high protein levels, making them ideal for various applications. Compared to other popular farmed insects such as mealworms, crickets, and waxworms, the industry considers BSF the preferred insect for large-scale waste management and sustainable protein production.

Benefits of black soldier fly farming

Black soldier fly farming offers a plethora of benefits, including environmental benefits, new job opportunities and better nutrition for pets and livestock. 

When it comes to environmental sustainability, utilising black soldier fly larvae as a protein source, instead of traditional protein sources like soy, significantly reduces water waste, CO2 emissions, deforestation and land usage. 

Moreover, BSF farming represents a great opportunity for economic development in the global South, where this new market can generate employment, enhance food security, and improve waste management, leading to more efficient resource recovery. 

Finally, but not less importantly, the benefits extend to the animals consuming the black soldier fly products. For pet food, black soldier fly larvae provide a complete and novel protein source that is hypoallergenic, highly digestible, and supports skin and coat health. In poultry feed, black soldier fly larvae contribute to better feed conversion ratios, increased egg production, and tastier eggs with vibrant yolk colour. Furthermore, the inclusion of live larvae improves animal welfare by strengthening leg bones, reducing chronic stress, and supporting overall health. 

Even the byproduct of BSF farming can be put to use: frass is an excellent fertiliser that can aid in soil repair and enhance soil health, further contributing to sustainable and circular agricultural practices. 

Overall, black soldier fly farming presents a multifaceted solution to various environmental, economic, and agricultural challenges, making it a promising avenue for sustainable development.

Challenges of BSF Farming

Black soldier fly (BSF) farming presents various challenges that might hinder its widespread adoption and scalability. One major hurdle is the high cost associated with BSF production, in both the global South and North, resulting in insect protein being priced higher than fishmeal and soy meal. Access to proper technology and infrastructure is limited, further driving up costs and making BSF farming a premium option in Western countries. Moreover, the lack of comprehensive educational resources and limited research and development exacerbate the challenges faced by BSF farmers. While the concept of BSF farming may seem straightforward, the execution is complicated, requiring support from animal nutrition, waste management and careful logistics planning. Additionally, regulations in some regions, such as the EU and UK, restrict the applications of insects and the types of waste that can be used. Finally, securing a consistent and suitable waste poses a significant challenge, as competition from other waste management methods and the need for a stable, nutritionally optimal supply complicate the process. Despite these challenges, addressing these issues is crucial for the sustainable growth and success of the BSF farming industry.

Is black soldier fly farming profitable?

Black Soldier Fly farming has emerged as a promising venture with significant potential for profitability and sustainability. Numerous studies have highlighted the economic viability of BSF farming compared to traditional organic waste treatment methods such as Anaerobic Digestion, Composting, Landfilling, and incineration. Lalander et al. (2018) and Eliyan et al. (2023) have demonstrated that BSF composting can yield higher economic returns when prioritising ROI and accepting lower treatment classes. Octaviani et al. (2023) further emphasise the environmental benefits of BSF farming, showcasing its ability to significantly reduce CO2 emissions compared to landfilling and composting methods. Additionally, BSF is not subject to increasing carbon taxes like incineration, making it a more profitable option in the future. The rising prices of soy due to environmental concerns and carbon taxes on chemical fertilisers further enhance the profitability of BSF farming. However, profitability depends on various factors, including the type of organics used, labour and electricity costs, and regulatory constraints. While sourcing cheap feedstock may be challenging in the UK and EU, regions like East Africa offer favourable conditions for BSF farming. Collaboration with existing waste or food processors can also enhance profitability by leveraging expertise and resources. In conclusion, while BSF farming presents lucrative opportunities, successful operations often involve partnerships and gradual scaling to mitigate risks and maximise returns.

Black Soldier Fly Farming and Sustainability 

BSF farming emerges as a sustainable solution amidst the escalating challenges of global meat consumption and agricultural practices. 

With traditional protein sources like soybeans leading to deforestation and fish meal facing scarcity issues, BSF farming offers a promising alternative. By upcycling organic waste into valuable nutrients, BSF farming promotes a circular agricultural system, reducing reliance on land-intensive practices and CO2 emissions (estimated up to 10 times less than soy farming). 

Moreover, the byproduct of BSF farming, frass is a potent natural fertiliser that reduces the needs for chemical fertilisers and pesticides. In essence, BSF farming represents a sustainable and efficient approach to protein production, addressing pressing environmental concerns while promoting a more resilient and eco-friendly agricultural ecosystem.

Investing in BSF Business

Investing in a black soldier fly (BSF) business requires a nuanced understanding of various aspects, ranging from organic waste management to alternative protein production and commercialization. Given the multifaceted nature of insect farming, investors must carefully consider the complexities involved. Traditionally, venture capital has been a common avenue for investing in insect farming companies, providing funding for research, development, and scaling operations. However, with the waste management industry increasingly adopting modular insect technology, new opportunities for corporate investments are emerging. These investments often involve integrating insect waste conversion assets into existing waste management activities, thereby diversifying revenue streams and enhancing resource recovery efforts. As the industry matures, such projects will need to demonstrate their financial viability to attract institutional and project financing, paving the way for further growth and innovation in the field of BSF farming.

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