It may sound creepy, but insect farming is crawling with opportunity for the agriculture industry.
NSW/ACT Rural Woman of the Year finalist and insect enthusiast Olympia Yarger is one of the speakers at the Bega AgTech Days event taking place on March 28 and 29.
She is looking forward to sharing her passion for this innovative and expanding field of farming.
Ms Yarger is the managing director of Goterra, a Canberra based food and livestock feed producer.
She farms insects such as crickets, mealworms, cockroaches and – her personal favorite – Australian green ants.
“They’re delicious and super versatile,” she said.
“They’re being used by some producers to make cheese and even alcohol, like gin.”
As well as food for human consumption, Goterra also produces insects as a cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional animal feed.
Insect-based feed can be supplemented to pigs, poultry, aquaculture and even pets, like cats and dogs, but does not suit the plant-based diet of ruminants, such as cattle and sheep.
To maintain biosecurity, Australia’s insect farming industry needs to originate from within the country’s borders.
“The risks of importing insects from overseas is just too high, so there needs to be a drive to do this within Australia to get insect farming off the ground,” Ms Yarger said.
Last year, the Insect Protein Association of Australia was established to support insect farmers, suppliers and retailers and uphold the integrity of the emerging industry.
The association has around 100 members, and Ms Yarger estimates there are about 12 farms producing food for humans and around 25 producing animal feed nationally.
“Some of these are just backyard operations, this is a really accessible industry because you can raise a large quantity of produce in a small space, generally smaller than your average garden shed,” she said.
“Insect farming can be adopted onto existing farms to diversify their production, or it is a really good gateway for people looking to enter the agriculture industry.”
Because some food and agricultural waste can be used to grow insects, the insect farming industry has the added value of redirecting waste otherwise destined for landfill.
Ms Yarger’s next endeavour is to develop a digital platform for Australian insect farmers to network with each other.
“This is a very new area, so there are many questions out there – about starting up or regulations or equipment, this will allow the industry to support itself going forward,” she said.
During the Bega AgTech Days, Ms Yarger is most looking forward to engaging with local farmers and producers.
“We shouldn’t develop solutions that then need to go out and find a problem, we should be doing it the other way around,” she said.
“We need to listen first to gain insight into the real problems that farmers are facing at the moment.”