Huge insect farm planned for Decatur

DECATUR — InnovaFeed, a French biotechnology company, is building the world’s largest insect farm in Decatur, next to ADM’s corn processing plant.

Maye Walraven, director of business development at InnovaFeed, said the effort was “groundbreaking” because of the impact insect ingredients can have on improving the sustainability of the food system.

“Our factories allow our partners to make a lot of energy savings and, therefore, to significantly reduce their environmental footprint,” Walraven said. “The real driving force behind the project is the impact we can have and how we can sustainably feed the world tomorrow. Given how many people there are on earth, this is a huge challenge.

The InnovaFeed factory will produce black soldier flies on an industrial scale. Black soldier flies were chosen for their valuable nutritional properties. Two different ingredients will be produced from the insects. InnovaFeed will sell the ingredients to buyers who will use them to make fish feed, pet food and animal feed.

“We’re not trying to do anything that doesn’t happen in nature,” Walraven said.

Fish eat flies. Chickens and pigs eat insects on the ground.

“We’re trying to put insects in their natural place in the food chain,” she said.

What makes it exciting is the impact the effort will have on the environment, she noted.

InnovaFeed’s Decatur partner is ADM, which owns a nearby corn processing plant. Biomass from the corn processing plant will be used to feed the insects.

“Biomass is almost waste, with very low value,” Walraven said. “It’s a new way to valorize these by-products.”

The two different products that the InnovaFeed plant will produce are a protein powder and an oil. Brown bug meal is very high in protein. It looks like cocoa powder, Walraven said. Insect oil has a very similar profile to coconut oil.

“We market it for pigs and poultry because it has benefits for their gut and their health,” Walraven said.

The idea is to complement and replace foods with high environmental costs, with foods made from a sustainable, low-impact source.

“By feeding farmed fish insect-based foods, we can significantly reduce the impact on the oceans,” Walraven said.

Over the past 30 years, the growth of aquaculture has exploded, she said. Last year, for the first time, fish production from aquaculture exceeded that from fisheries. The problem has become how to feed farmed fish sustainably – without depleting the oceans. We are reaching the limit of the amount of vegetable protein that we can feed farmed fish.

“Insect protein can really be a way to continue aquaculture growth without having such a big impact on marine resources,” Walraven said.