Are insects the future crop for the vertical farmer?

While some of us see vertical farms as the solution to produce our food in the future, most vertical growth operations currently still mainly produce a small selection of herbs and leafy greens. At the annual summit of the Association of Vertical Farming in Amsterdam last month, participants were inspired by speakers to think about including alternative crops that provide more nutritious value too. One of these were insects; with a creepy enthusiasm Peter Bickerton tried to convince us that bugs are the food of the future.

Peter Bickerton at the annual summit of the Association of Vertical Farming in Amsterdam last month.

Bickerton, a British public engagement and society officer at The Genome Analysis Centre, passionately shared his knowledge on the possibilities of insect farming; according to him, insects will be the number one solution to feed the 9 billion people on this earth in 2050. He explained why the proteins from insects are the key to solve the challenges in present day agriculture and tackle global food security.

"These delicious bugs require only a fraction of the inputs regular livestock demands", said Bickerton when explaining and comparing the nutritional contents of insects with for example beef or milk by showing several input and protein output ratios. "Crickets use only one kilogram of green matter (food waste or grain), while it takes 9 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of beef. Combine this with the huge amounts of fresh water usage in livestock farming, and you know that something has to change."

After mentioning not only the sustainability reasons and health benefits of eating insects, Bickerton pointed out the chances for entrepreneurs to start with vertical farming of insects.

"Insects could play a major role in making vertical farms more sustainable and circular too; for example by feeding larvae farm waste streams or the other way around, using larvae waste as a fertilizer for the crops."

He also stressed the challenges of high density, commercial insect farming. "The problem with growing anything on a large scale are diseases and maintaining a healthy population and creating viable farming models, as well as food safety approvals." But according to Bickerton these are just basic challenges that you have in any type of new industry.

Click here to learn more about Peter Bickerton's appetite for insects in a recent article in The Mirror

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