Cricket Farming

May 2020

An alternative product to meat based protein

In a search for alternative protein sources without the environmental impacts of traditional meat-based protein, John Hart has set-up of the first commercial cricket farm pilot within New Zealand. Working for Wairarapa based bakers Breadcraft, John is now leading their research into the benefits of cricket powder and other applications beyond the Rebel Bakehouse cricket wraps launched in early 2019.

Formerly a Wairarapa sheep and beef farmer and technology consultant, John had been looking into crickets as a possible food source for pasture-raised chickens. When he’d ruled crickets out as too expensive for chicken feed, he was put in touch with John Cockburn, director of Wairarapa based bakery Breadcraft. John Cockburn’s team was looking at alternative proteins to boost the nutrient content of baked goods. Cockburn had recently visited a cricket farm in Canada while on a trip researching eco-friendly packaging.

Breadcraft cricket powder is made from black field crickets common in New Zealand and a pilot farm has been set up in two containers close to the bakery. The powder is 100% cricket. It is high in nutrients like vitamin B and is a complete protein, one that includes the 9 essential amino acids for human health. The taste has been described as anywhere from walnut to hazelnut.

In the early stages of research Breadcraft used imported cricket powder from Canada, however, as a wrap product became more viable, they looked at sustainably growing their own crickets.

Cricket protein has fewer environmental impacts than farming traditional meat proteins. John says a cow produces around 50 kilos of protein per year per hectare, while that same hectare can potentially produce hundreds of tonnes a year of protein from crickets with only 1-2% of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with farming cows. Part of this stems from the biological efficiency of the cricket. Unlike larger animals, crickets don’t require food and water to fuel complex biological systems like skin and blood circulation.

Crickets can also be farmed in urban areas close to consumers and producers. Breadcraft’s pilot farm is located not far from their bakery.
The pilot farm is based in two temperature and humidity controlled modified shipping containers. In the wild, crickets breed once a year but John needed the crickets to breed year-round. The trick has been to create a balmy environment, “like a spring night in Fiji” in the containers. Getting the right medium for egg laying was also a result of trial and error, with that growing medium now protected by IP.
Once eggs are laid, they are transferred from the adult containers into incubators. The black field cricket doesn’t undergo metamorphosis like many
insects. Instead it is born as a tiny cricket, referred to as a ‘pinhead’. The babies undergo around 7 moult stages over 7 weeks before reaching maturity. Maturity is usually signaled by their chirping a mating call.

The crickets are housed in large plastic bins within the “farm”. Each bin contains nestled egg cartons creating a system of openings that mimic cracks in the soil where the insects live in the wild.

Like all livestock, crickets require high quality food daily. In the wild, crickets eat the base of grass stems. The food mix has been carefully developed and is also protected by IP. John is currently running trials to look at feeding crickets bread waste from the bakery (though they will not be fed any waste from the cricket wraps!)

Presently a kilo of food produces 1⁄2 kilo of crickets and 1⁄2 kilo of high value frass. (Frass is cricket waste, a valuable and nutritious plant nutrient.)

On reaching maturity, the crickets are ready for harvest and are humanely killed with nitrogen gas. John points out that while there are no welfare regulations around insect production within New Zealand at present, he has been careful to meet European guidelines to assure healthy, happy crickets.

Once killed, crickets are oven dried and ground into a powder for use at the bakery. About 3⁄4 of a cricket is water, so it takes around 4 kilos of live crickets to produce a kilo of cricket powder. Presently the drying and grinding is being carried out at a local food safe commercial facility, however with a new Future Foods building underway at Breadcraft, they may install a dryer area there.
John says the market will be a deciding factor in scaling up. Presently they’ve created a cricket flour that can be used as an alternative standard wheat flour, but with the benefits of a ‘protein punch’. (Expect to see this on the market very soon.) The current farm is not quite at full capacity but John estimates the two 40-foot containers could accommodate around 2 million crickets. Currently John’s energy is focused on “aggressively investigating possibilities around crickets and human gut health”.

Recent research has indicated cricket products have an anti-inflammatory effect on the human digestive system and are beneficial for the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Bioactive peptides that appear to affect blood pressure, blood sugar regulation, and satiety have also been identified. The thought is that because the chitin that makes up the insect exoskeleton is insoluble, it is able to survive further along the human digestive tract and provide a food source for beneficial bacteria.

With a Callaghan Innovation grant, John is working alongside a researcher at Massey University to explore the nature of the chitin in the cricket and how this might be extracted. There could be potential to extract a supplement for gut health. Other research is looking to quantify the health benefits with scientific evidence, “We don’t want to make nonsense claims”, John says.


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