Semi-Automatic Water Station for Crickets

In 2015 I was working on multiple projects to find ways to help insect farmers with their two main issues: Farming requires too much manual work and that there are too many risks in farming. One solution to fight these two issues was a prototype of Semi-Automatic Water Station for Crickets. I designed the following prototype with one great engineer, but due to lack of time we did not push the design further. The prototype has been tested in couple of farms the basic functionality has been confirmed, but for sure there are details to improve in all aspects.

The problem of high risks and need of manual labor.

Here is an example of a regular cricket farm. Picture taken from Entomo Farms’ Instagram:  (https://www.instagram.com/p/BHhtRZVg4JU/?taken-by=entomofarms)

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UPDATE 30.4.2017: New updated picture from Entomo Farms was uploaded USAID- Medium profile. Very interesting set-up! Photo courtesy of Stewart Stick, Entomo Farms. Link to the article: https://medium.com/usaid-2030/3-food-innovations-changing-how-the-world-eats-ddda0414fbb

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What you can see from the picture is that there is wooden plate for the cricket feed and black plastic “river” where water flows for the crickets to drink. The water system has multiple problems. Well, before going in to the problems it must be said that this river-thing is a lot better than the other traditional drinking device: “the sponge-thing”, sold e.g here: https://www.armstrongcrickets.com/waterdevice

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Both of the shown methods of bringing fresh water to crickets suffer from the same problems of crickets dying and dropping feces into the water. What the river-method has better that the sponge is that you don’t need to be filling up the water tank frequently.

The Solution: Semi-Automatic Water Station

Here below I present my concept of low manual labor that has minimized the risk of crickets touching the fresh water. In the first picture below I show the basic unit of the system. The shape and size of the pipe can be basically anything, in this case the pipe is made for a regular plastic container. There are small  drinking holes in the long sides of the pipe and for each hole there is an individual ramp. The ramp has such surface that the crickets are able climb on it, but the pipe itself is so slippery that they cannot move on it. This way the crickets will only move to the drinking hole and no where else. Additionally, the holes are so far away from each other that the while the head of the cricket is at the drinking hole, the other end does not reach the neighboring hole.

The pipe is filled with plastic mesh that has tiny holes. The mesh is rolled and pushed into the pipe. This way the mesh is exposed at the drinking holes and capillary action offers fresh drop of water for the thirsty animal. When the small drop has been drank, the capillary action will bring a new one.

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In the next picture the flow of water is explained. The water enters the system from the left by a drip hose that is either connected to water line (best option), or a separate tank. In this example the rearing boxes are piled on top of each other. Water enters the top most box from the left and exists from the right. To the next one the water enters from the right, exists from the left and so on. Under the last one there is a overflow tank that collects the water that was not drank during water’s way through the system. In large scale operation the water would go to the drain or possibly pumped back to circulation.

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The system is calibrated in two steps. First of all it is essential that the system is level, if tilted the water can overflow on one side and leave the opposite side with no water at all. The correct flow of water can be confirmed by in the beginning checking how much water comes out to the overflow tank. If you can get e.g one drop every 10 min, you know that there is water throughout the system and that the water is not stagnant either.

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The service and cleaning of the system is essential. The boxes can be taken out from the system by lifting out the flexible pipes connecting the boxes from the hard plastic that is inside the boxes.This way you can even taken out one of the boxes in the middle of the pile without touching the ones below and above. The hard plastic pipes are removable as well. As you can see from the first picture the pipe is connected by two holders. When you click the pipe out from the holders the pipe can be taken out completely, or just pushed out of the way when e.g the cartons are changed. The plastic ramps are connected to the pipes by clicking action as well.

I believe the system will remain clean for the duration of one life cycle of crickets, so the cleaning would happen in the same time when the crickets are harvested. The pipes, hard and soft, can be placed inside a dishwasher and the plastic mesh can be taken out easily before that. One could also try running strong alcohol through the system to clean out bacteria.

Please feel free the take this idea to your farm and let me know what if it works or not. And especially if it doesn’t, I would love to hear what are the reasons.

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Starter Kit for Ento-Entrepreneurs

Lately quite a few people have reached out for me for tips for starting a new Insect for Food and Feed- companies. I am very happy to see the industry growing and it is my pleasure to help out. To make your starting easier I have here collected some links and tips how to get started and how to avoid some of the pitfalls.

I believe strongly in Lean movement, not only in daily work, but also larger projects that starting of a new company is. To prevent unnecessary work and loss of resources, start by collecting data and objectively evaluating potential of you business plan.  To learn more about Lean and modern business management check out the great Lean Startup- book by Eric Ries.

Study the literature. Unfortunately there are only very few publications on the business side of IFF- business, biological knowledge can be found much easier. My thesis that I wrote in 2015 is still one of only publications looking at the production and supply chain side of this specific industry. The thesis comes with full list of references that can you use to dig deeper into all the discussed topics. Here below are some links I recommend you to read. Other than the links listed here you might want to check also the Directory from the menu bar, from there you can find all my blog posts e.g about how to choose the best species to farm.

  • Thesis: Risk Management in High Scale insect farming: https://ilkkataponen.com/2015/05/20/thesis-supply-chain-risk-management-in-entomology-farms/
  • Dipterra-blog. The most professional insect rearing blog: http://www.dipterra.com/
  • Mass rearing of beneficial organisms- book:  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270274339_Mass_Production_of_Beneficial_Organisms_Invertebrates_and_Entomopathogens

Get connected with insect entrepreneurs. The largest database online with contact information can be found from this website, just click the “Entomology Company Database” from the menu bar. I also recommend that you will contact your local association of IFF companies, here are some links:

  • International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed http://www.ipiff.org
  • North American Edible Insect Coalition http://www.edibleinsectcoalition.org/
  • The ASEAN Food and Feed Insects’ Association http://affia.org/
  • The UK Network for Insects as Food & Feed https://woven-network.co.uk/

By getting connected you will get essential tips from more experienced people and you can team up to work on topics that you the concerns about (health of genetic pool, fighting horizontal integration issues etc).

Contact your local Food Safety Authority. In USA it is the FDA, in EU- level its EFSA. In other words the one that interprets the national laws regarding food and feed. They are there to serve you and they will tell you the status of insect food and feed in your environment. A nice collection of the legal status’ can be found here:  http://www.foodnavigator-asia.com/Policy/Exploring-the-legal-status-of-edible-insects-around-the-world

Stay up to date. The following links are for news sites and social media channels that keep you up to date of the latest news in the field.

  • 4ento is a news center for everything around the topic: http://4ento.com/
  • Robert Nathan Allen is the founder Little Herds- association. Follow him in Twitter for the latest especially in North America. https://twitter.com/RNAeatsbugs
  • Food Navigator is news center for Food & Beverage industry, follows closely also IFF- industry: http://www.foodnavigator.com/
  • All About Feed is similar to Food Navigator, just with the feed aspect: allaboutfeed.net
  • Facebook-group Food Insect Newsletter.  https://www.facebook.com/groups/EdibleInsects/

2016 Was a Successful Year!

It is the time of the year to look back and anticipate a little bit the future as well. The amount of visitors and pages viewed on this site more doubled even though I was able to contribute less on writing. The reason to the slowing pace of blog posting was that I started my current full-time job at Gold & Green Foods Ltd. G&G Foods is company in search for the perfect protein and so far we have brought one product to the market: Pulled Oats. If you are interested to learn more, see our website at http://www.goldandgreenfoods.com

Here below are some graphics and numbers from this blog. I am really happy Finland is not anymore the number one country from which the visitors are coming from (can’t say anymore its just my mom reading my posts). Numbers that I not did put here are the downloading rates of the files I offer: Patent database was downloaded 120 times, the company database 540 times.

Other than working at G&G Foods I did few consultation works and I gave few speeches, maybe most interesting one was Woven network’s event in Nottingham. Link to the speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8V74_exxTGY&t=14s

Also, I published my thesis as audio book. I explained the publishing process in this blog: https://ilkkataponen.com/2016/05/08/how-i-created-and-published-an-audiobook/. What is crazy about this audio book is that in Audible, the most recognized audio book platform in the world, I am the most sold Finnish author with 34 books sold between April and November. What explains this status is that there pretty much aren’t any other Finnish books available there. That facts takes something out some of the fame, but anyway its a nice title, right?!

In the coming year I have already agreed to take part to one nice insect related publicity campaign here in Finland. I am also thinking of taking this blog more and more away only from insect-related topics towards the wider whole new-proteins, food security and climate change issue. Let’s see what happens!

Happy new year!

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How I created and published an audiobook

About one month ago my thesis Risk Management in the Supply Chains of Entomology farms was published as an audiobook in all major platforms like iTunes, Audiobooks.com and Audible. I am still waiting for the first numbers, but at least three people have told me they have bought it!

I got the idea from hearing multiple sources that “yeah the thesis sounds really interesting, but I do not have the time to read it”.. Well, no you have no excuse left!

Now when the project is happily over I though I should share some of the experienced to help you out as well to make your own audiobook from an existing, ready written document:

  1. Edit the book to fit the new format. In the case of a thesis academic references play a big role the document, but in the audiobook format they are simply useless: No one wants their listening pleasure to be interrupted all the time for a list of names and dates. In the beginning of the audiobook it is announced that the references have been removed, but are available accordingly in the written document. Second thing to modify is references to graphs and pictures in the written document, as obviously the listener cannot see them.
  2. Hire a professional narrator. I had access to professional recording gear, but even though I know English quite well, I am not a native speaker. I think I could have made a reasonable recording, but I think people would have lost the enjoyment of listening quite soon. One hour and 40 minutes is not a long audiobook, but it is really long time to listen if the narrator is not really good.  I used the Fiverr- service to find the narrator. I contacted three people who all seemed very friendly and professional. In the end I chose the person who answered me the first, and the result came out really nice. It really sounds like a real audiobook and the price was good as well.
  3. Use a publishing service. This advise is a not only an advise, but a must for all non-UK and non-USA based publishers. The main publishing platform is ACX that handles everything for iTunes, Amazon and Audible. They do not accept private uploads if the person does not have tax-ID in either in UK or USA. To go around this obstacle I contacted some publishing houses but found only one suitable one: Author’s Republic. They are a USA based company that offers similar service as Tunecore offers for bands and musicians: They will upload your copyright- materials to all agreed platforms and they will do all your paper work for you against a fee / portion of your royalty income. I can only say positive things about the arrangement I have with Author’s republic: Very fast and friendly service and my audio book was published in very short time.

You can purchase the audiobook behind the following links:

http://www.audiobooks.com/search/author/Ilkka%20Taponen

https://www.overdrive.com/creators/1120533/ilkka-taponen

http://www.audible.com/search/ref=a_hp_tseft…

https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/11615148

The audiobook also available at iTunes, just search for “Ilkka Taponen”.

I am looking forward to hear your thoughts about the work!

Database Analysis; The Chosen Species

I published my Entomology Company Database in this website about one week ago. I already got a lot of positive feedback and also people informed me of missing companies and mistakes, thank you for that! I will keep on updating the database from now on, if you spot a line that needs updating, let me know!

There are many ways to look at the data and I believe it can be used to serve multiple purposes, but what I will do here is to paint a picture of the insect species that are reared by the industry and what can we conclude from the findings.

Database analysis; The Chosen Species

To get started I first filtered out all companies that are not active. Then I selected companies that are involved in farming.  Also, I filtered out companies whose species are unknown.  This leaves us 69 companies (Note! I am using the database file version 08, uploaded on 14th of January).

Point 1. Most companies focus only on one species

First thing we can learn from this is that vast majority of companies, 43 out of 69, are focused only on one species. Putting the company’s focus to only one species brings many positives effects: R&D resources are better used, hardware investments and inventory carrying costs are lower. Also, benefits of economies of scale can be reached easier. There are negative sides as well; Focusing only on one species means higher environmental and supply risks. What if the chosen species are not among the most popular species when the industry grows? Or even worse, what if the species are not in the list of approved species when the legislation is going through big changes?

More on this you can read from my blog 5 Questions an Investor Should Ask Before Investing into a Insect Farm. https://ilkkataponen.com/2015/06/20/5-questions-an-investor-should-ask-before-investing-to-a-insect-farm/

Four companies have chosen the path of two species that might be a way to control the risks, but in the same time keep the costs low. The companies are Ynsect, Ofbug, Big Cricket Farms and Micronutris.

When looking at the “Multiple species” companies 12 of out 23 are companies that mainly focus on biocontrol or pet food manufacturing. When working on these segments of insect farming the higher production costs and loss of the benefits of economies of scale is justifiable as the companies get better price for their product. This is because their selling unit is rather pieces than kilos.  They operate in the a high-end segment, while when producing for food or feed the companies are competing e.g with soy bean that is extremely cheap.

Point 2. The most popular species

Looking at the most popular species is not easy as many companies talk only about “crickets” instead of the actual species of crickets. All the cricket companies make total number of 19. The black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) farming companies are 21. Maybe surprisingly only seven companies are involved mainly with mealworm or lesser mealworm. Of course some of the “Multiple species” companies are rearing these as well.

Point 3. The lone wolves

Two companies stand out with the selected species: Steak Traz Traz are the only one to choose Grasshoppers so far and Fly Farm Systems only one with Musca Domestica. Being the only raises few issues and increases supply risks. How come these companies have chosen a different answer than others? Do they know something that majority does not, and are they really the one with the better option?  Surely every company is their own individual case and they could justify their chosen species from production and business perspective today, but the in the future the case will be different. One reason is because of the environmental risk explained in Point 1. The biggest risk is not the environmental, but the supply risk that is very significant in the case of the lone wolves. Companies rearing e.g the most popular species black soldier fly will benefit from the wide vertical integration that they build together with other similar companies. This will not only bring security against the supply risk of the company but benefits in increased sales as the demand risk is reduced for the downstream of the logistic chain.

More on the supply risk briefly from my presentation here: https://ilkkataponen.com/2015/10/29/presentation-in-insect-business-and-research-meeting-in-seinajoki-finland/

Or with detail from my thesis here: https://ilkkataponen.com/2015/05/20/thesis-supply-chain-risk-management-in-entomology-farms/

 

Sending Unannounced Live Insect Shipments Is a Really Bad Idea

A vast majority of logistics companies do not accept live insects on board. The reason is that even though insects have very different requirements than e.g mammals during transportation, they fall under the same category of “live animals”. Live animals mean extra work, extra cost and especially extra risk and for these reasons the logistics companies have chosen this policy.

In Europe live animals are declined by at least the following major companies: TNT, FedEx, UPS, DHL, Schenker. Some companies have exceptions if the transportation happens within a country or if airplanes are not used. For example Matkahuolto company in Finland allows ground transportation, but only within the country. What is interesting is that FedEx is doing live insect transportation within different states in USA, but not in the EU.

So if the policies are so strict, how come companies are able to send live insects internationally?

First of all the large global companies do not have consistent approach to the relatively new demand. This we can see from the example of FedEx and their differences in EU and USA. When the logistics companies do not have clear answer, it is possible for some departments or local offices to go around the official policies.

The second reason and the most common way to send live insects is to send them unannounced meaning that the insects are packed and sent without telling what is actually inside the box. The Finnish national post office Posti has told that they know that their network is used for live insect transportation this way. Using this method is a really bad idea in the long run and will lead to big problems sooner or later. In some cases sending unannounced might be the only option to be able to send at all, but the following points should make you consider the option of not sending at all seriously:

When sending purposely against the regulations you might be eligible to cover damages. This is the case if the logistics company notices your violation of the rules and must carry out quarantine actions to isolate the risky shipment from other packages.  The second and a lot more serious and expensive case is the breaking of a live insect box during the transportation. Depending on the case it might be that the logistics company has to decontaminate multiple shelves, or even complete airport hangar, dispose other packages that are affected by the escaped insects and so on. And if this happens you can be sure that they are not willing to pay the bill themselves.

There is no legal or regulatory cover. This goes to both receiver and sender! When something goes wrong with a shipment, and eventually something will go wrong, the logistics company will not cover anything to you once it is clear what was inside the package. If you are using the method of unannounced shipments, is it clear what will you do with you if a shipment doesn’t arrive because of the third party?

So what to do? If you are a supplier you should cover yourself by selling your live insect with the Incoterm Ex Works. This means that you are selling them “free from the warehouse” so that products are available from a given location where the customer or a third party assigned by the customer can pick them up. At the moment of picking up the responsibility of the supplier ends and all possible issues are now in the hands of the customer.

The best options is obviously using a logistics service provider that officially transports live insects. There are now a few options available also in EU. If you are interested to get connected I am happy to help you out!

e-mail me ilkka (at) iffautomation.com or call +358 40 762 9601

Insect Farming Is Best Suited for the Production of Animal Feed

The companies of the growing industry of high-scale insect farming are approaching their businesses from many different angles, but where the use of insects can be justified the best is when the insects are used to create animal based feed for other animals. The “animal based feed” means feed that include proteins and other nutrients that are coming from an animal instead of plants. Certain farmed animals like salmon and pets like some reptiles require animal based feeds for their health and efficient farming.

When evaluating where the insect based products should be used, the animal based feed is the only group of products where the insects stand out in a positive way against the substitute products. Other products that can be made out of insect are human food, chitin and fertilizer. Chitin and fertilizer are side products of the main purpose of the insect farming that is aiming to produce food either for human or animal consumption.

Let’s go through some of the approaches the insect farming industry has made so far, and how they match up with the substitute products.

Human food

When talking about human food, insects are associated to it as a protein source and replacement for other animal products and beans like soy. There is no doubt that insect farming have significant benefits over these two product groups, but when looking at other new protein products, insects are not anymore the number one choice. Single-cell proteins (Algae, fungus and bacteria), cultured meat and bio engineering (e.g plant based products mimicking animal based products) can all offer the same value proposition as insects, but they do not carry similar risk exposure for the producers making them. For this reason the substitute products are more likely to be produced with more efficiency.

The main difference and in the same time the source of higher risks compared to these other modern food sources is that the insects are the only animal based, or putting it more precisely, the only one coming from live animals.  When farming animals in high-scale the pathogens are a risk for the health of the animals themselves. This risk is underlined in the coming years as the pathogens’ are building bit by bit more resistance against antibiotics. Secondly, when dealing with live animals the end products are also exposed to pathogens like salmonella more than plant based products.

The factor that insect industry has over the substitutes is the possibility of nutrient recycling. Nutrient recycling in this case means that nutrients can be saved from bio waste or even manure by feeding them to insects. Using bio waste brings multiple benefits for an insect farm, but it also highlights the risks. When the raw material of the production is bio waste the cost is very low. This lower cost can make up some of costs of higher risks when comparing the substitutes and underline positive environmental impact of the insect farming.

There are a few negative sides of using bio waste. Depending on the source of the waste the quality and quantity of it changes and this makes the forecasting of the production more difficult also in both quality and quantity. Additionally, when the waste is so unstable it bring additional pathogen risks. There are ways to mitigate these issues: If using waste from bio waste created by facilities such as breweries the quality and quantity are consistent, but the price is not as good as the same waste can be used for example in bio gas production. Other way to make the raw material consistent is for example fermentation and mixing of different high standard deviation batches to make them consistent by quality, but these solutions increase the production and inventory carrying costs. Lastly, the issue of regulations might be a problem from companies using bio waste. At the moment it is unknown how for example heavy metals and medication residues build-up in the food chain of insects. This is one of the main reasons why EU has not yet opened the markets for insect based food and feed. It has been speculated that the first steps of the opening of the markets will include only certain insect species fed only with certain feeds, and those fees would not include bio waste.

All these downsides may compromise one of the main arguments of insect farming, the possibility of nutrient recycling. If you are interested to read more about this aspect, see my blog post “Using bio waste as feed” here: https://ilkkataponen.com/2015/08/20/using-bio-waste-as-feed-for-farmed-insects/

Animal feed

When looking at the substitutes in the animal feed sector “insect feed” is competing with wild fish, side streams of traditional farming and plant based proteins like soy. The prices of these products are low and the quantity demand is extremely high. It will be difficult from the insect businesses to answer these numbers especially when the industry is still building up, but insect feed have other significant benefits over the competition.  Both wild fish and insects are part of the natural diet of predatory fishes like salmon, but unlike the wild fish, insects can be produced locally and insect products are a lot more sustainable. Soy is one of the key elements in the modern fish farming even though it is not a part of for example salmon’s diet. This area is not my expertise, but it is my understanding that soy is being used as fish feed only because it is the cheapest possible protein source, and if the price of an animal based protein source would be close soy, soy would be ditched right away. Additionally, the rise of the wild fish based fish feed prices is expected to continue. This will be closing the price cap year after year in benefit of the insect feed.

Conclusion

Keeping in mind the explained issues and when thinking about the industrial scale food production it can be concluded that insect are most suitable for animal feed for situations when the animal based nutrients are a must. When thinking of human food the new and modern substitute products offer more efficient and, depending on the type of the feed used for insects, more environmentally friendly solutions. When looking at the topic from non-industrial point of view insects are a great solution for human food. For developing countries and areas where arable land is scarce insects can offer great benefits over mammal farming that need huge areas of land and water. Topic that was not discussed in the blog was taste; will it work in benefit of insect or other protein sources? This question I leave for other bloggers and experts.