Hexafly, an award-winning vertical insect farm, has grown from a backyard business into a progressive enterprise with a global presence.
Alvan Hunt, CEO, and John Lynam, CTO, founded the company five years ago to “bring an insect farming revolution to the world”.
They are part of a new breed of green entrepreneurs consciously producing products that they believe can reduce human impact on the planet.
Currently, there are 25 employees and 1 million adult black soldier flies on the vertical insect farm in Slane, County Meath.
The site measures 1,400sqm and comprises two warehouse units divided into incubation, hatchery, and production.
“Hexafly is an agricultural farm albeit with a difference. Instead of dairy, sheep, or pigs, we farm 1 million black soldier flies. This means we operate a 7-day week, 365 days farm management system.” Alvan told That’s Farming.
“Hexafly produce a sustainably made protein, with 60% protein (that is twice the protein in red meat) for plant and animal feed.”
According to Alvan, all Hexafly products are made using closed circular economy practices, meaning they are sustainably made and use less space, less water, fewer inputs, and 90% less carbon.
“Over 1 million adult black soldier flies bio-convert industry food waste (brewers’ waste) into a valuable protein source that contains 60% protein, twice that of red meat.”
“This closed circular economy process of production (use-recycle-reuse) makes it a very sustainable protein and a practical and very real solution to global food insecurity and climate change.”
Hexafly’s target markets are the cosmetic, pet food, agricultural and horticultural industries.
Their products range from Live BSF Grubs (live larvae for reptiles), Dried BSF Grubs (dried for wild birds, hedgehogs, fish) and Grubs for Hens (live larvae for poultry).
Others include Heaxaoil (insect oil for the cosmetic industry) and Hexameal (feed for pet and aquaculture industries).
“Demand for global food production is set to increase by 50% by 2030 and double by 2050, all of which will place increasing demands on the planet, resources and carbon emissions, resulting in global insecurity and global climate change. It is a global imperative to find alternative ways to feed our planet.”
Hexafrass (insect castings for organic, soil improver and fertiliser) is its organic soil amendment and fertiliser. Derived from insect castings, or manure from the black soldier fly, it contains chitin which is a powerful bio-active stimulant.
When in the presence of chitin, it pre-charges soil with healthy microbes and helps nurture root growth and development and protects plants from pests and disease.
“It compares favourably to other organic materials because it has 60+% organic matter, less than 25% moisture and, it has a nutrient gift per ton of 30 kg N; 14 kg P2O5; 5 kg K2O; 9 kg.”
“It provides some quick nitrogen to support early plant growth, and it completely breaks down slowly over the growing season. It also comes with a powerful package of trace elements such as zinc, copper, manganese, and iron to boost plant growth.”
“Product consistency is very high, and it is completely free from seeds, hormones, antibiotics, GMO material, or pesticides.”
Vertical insect farming
Alvan believes the potential for insect farming is enormous. Under EU law, insects are fed a mix of by- and co-products from the agri-food industries and with resources currently not being used and not or no longer destined for human consumption, such as the so-called ‘former foodstuff’.
The by-products may also include those derived from grains, starch, fruit and vegetable supply chains as well as products arising from the food manufacturing process (other than final products).
“Hexafly uses’ brewers waste. It is expected that up to a third of the food waste generated today may be used in insect farming. Edible insects market size exceeded USD 112 million, globally in 2019 and is estimated to grow at over 47% CAGR between 2019 and 2026.”
“Increasing demand for high protein, low fat and economical food source, along with shifting trends in dietary needs, is likely to stimulate market outlook.”
Seeing the business grow from a garden shed with two men to a large factory with over twenty employees has been a highlight for Alvan.
Also, he takes pride in seeing insect products launched on the market and in stores and being a part of what he referred to as the sustainability revolution.
Alvan attributes their success this far to early recognition from the industry and winning the 2020 Enterprise Ireland’s sustainable farming award.
“Support from government institutions and private funding has enabled Hexafly to grow from a backyard business into an entrepreneurial, start-up competing on the world stage.”
The founders of Hexafly wish to extend their reach in Ireland and the UK by building a much larger production plant to meet demand and produce at larger volumes and launch their products into new markets.
“The market is set to double from 1.5 billion to 112 billion, a 47% increase between 2020-2026. With changing regulation coming down the line, the FSA, in January 2021, announced yellow mealworm safe for human consumption.”
“It is hoped BSF larvae will follow shortly later in the year. So, we could be seeing BSF in pasta, biscuits and cakes very soon.”
“We would like to become a global leader in the bioconversion industry of alternative and sustainable protein in the swine, poultry and aquaculture markets.”
“Our business mission is to revolutionise insect farming through continuous, world-class product innovation and find smarter ways to feed the planet,” Alvan concluded.