Referring to an insect farm, people often think of fields, barns and muddy boots. But now it’s often a high-tech, fully automated facility, inside a commercial warehouse in an industrial park.
Protix is one such farm, located in the town of Bergen op Zoom, a metropolitan area and city in the south of the Netherlands. This insect company has been operating since 2019.
Its 15,000 square meter warehouse is the largest black soldier fly farm in the world. The demand for edible insects – and facilities like these – is growing.
Currently, about 80% of Protix’s production is used for animal feed, the rest is used for poultry and aqua feed.
This is a new trend in the market, as many fish, poultry and pig farmers are looking for alternative protein sources to fishmeal and soy. Insect proteins in poultry and swine feed were approved by the EU last year, including those produced from house crickets, yellow mealworms and migratory locusts.
Protix is preparing to announce 10 new locations as it expands its business reach in Europe and North America.
The company’s facilities are the culmination and fruit of a decade of intense R&D, with the belief that insect protein can improve the “environmental footprint” of food on their tables. ta.
The plant has produced 15,000 tonnes of live larvae per year for the past two years. That equates to 10,000 tons of protein per hectare per year. In comparison, soybeans only produce about one ton of protein per hectare per year.
This performance is created partly by nature, partly by nurturing. Nature has provided the black soldier fly with an unbeatable bioconverter. And Protix has enhanced that with the nurturing cycle, a technology the company has spent a decade perfecting.
The first thing you will notice when entering this place is the smell emanating from the food of the insects. The factory is divided into sections that handle different stages of the process, but at its heart is a vertical farm.
This is where the larvae live, inside specialized storage devices. They are stacked in stacks nearly four meters high and more than 16 meters long, with the temperature always kept at 30 degrees Celsius.
There are three such storage areas, arranged around a central conveyor system, where both feeding and harvesting take place. Technicians control each step of the process through a central control area. Everything here is tailored, from the shape of the crate to the proprietary software.
“You can’t buy anything like this outside, except stacks of shelves,” Kees Aarts, founder and CEO of Protix, proudly shares.
The larvae are fed by-products from the food and beverage industry, such as potato waste from a French fryer or discarded grain.
Feed ingredients are delivered daily and stored in the vaults at the back of the factory. They are then mixed and turned into a special puree in a giant mixer.
Larvae are fed every two days. The stacker cranes pull each column of storage bins, pass them through a conveyor system to fill them with food, and then return them to the vertical storage area.
These larvae will be harvested in just six to eight days. Only 1% of larvae are left to pupate, which then become adults and are used for reproduction. The process is done in a special chamber, and it is off-limits to visitors.
To harvest the larvae, the crates are fed back to a central conveyor system and tilted into a giant sieve. The larvae are then separated from the uneaten food before being washed.
Next, the larvae are taken to be processed in an adjoining room. Protix’s main products are protein powders, so the oils from them must be separated through a centrifuge. The protein is then packed into large bags and the oil stays in the containers.
“It’s like the seed company, the farmer, the miller and the packaging company all co-existing under one roof to make a protein powder.” CEO Aarts said.