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Could insect manure help grow crops? Warwick and Durham researchers to investigate

The waste from larvae production could be used as a crop fertiliser should commercial insect farms get off the ground in the UK.

This is the concept that researchers at the University of Warwick and Durham University are investigating as part of a major government-funded project to look at the viability of rearing insects for animal feed in the UK.Larvae in hands. Credit: Entocycle.

The project will take the waste material, known as frass, from Black Soldier Fly larvae reared in a commercial set up by London start-up company Entocycle. Researchers at Warwick and Durham will characterise the frass, where the larvae have been fed on different types of food waste, and investigate its use as a plant fertiliser and growth stimulant. Glasshouse and field based trials will be undertaken at the University of Warwick’s Crop Centre at its Wellesbourne Campus.

Rob Lillywhite, project lead at the University of Warwick said: “Frass is a by-product of producing insects and is likely to contain many of the essential elements required for plant growth. We are excited by the opportunity to examine its use in plant production as it is a natural and sustainable product. Finding a value-adding use for the frass will add to the sustainability of using insect protein in the food system as an alternative to products like soya.

“We will test the frass and investigate its plant nutrient potential, both in its natural form and then look at any possibility of processing it as an ingredient in plant feeds.

“It’s early days in the project with very little science of this sort having gone before. We are looking forward to be working on a project looking at new potential food systems, with sustainability and closed loop ideals at their core.”

Co-investigator at Durham University, Elaine Fitches, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for us to join forces with experts in crop nutrition at the University of Warwick to begin to understand the value of insect frass for crop and soil health in the UK.

“At Durham we will conduct complementary fundamental research to explore how frass can be used to boost plant immunity and will seek to explain the molecular mechanisms underpinning enhanced plant responses to pathogen attack.

Ari Sadanandom, co-investigator at Durham, said: “As the first substantial UK insect frass research initiative in the globally expanding field of insect farming, our goal is to provide scientific evidence that will contribute to enhancing the sustainability of agri-food systems in the longer term.”

The research is part of a £10m funding package from the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) to help fund the construction of the UK’s first large-scale industrial insect farm and accelerate the development of sustainable food production systems.

The ambitious project, led-by Entocycle, will deliver a plan to rapidly convert food waste into insect-based animal feed for the aquaculture and pet food industries, reducing CO2 emissions related to the sourcing and production of traditional sources of protein and helping the UK improve its food and feed security in the future through more localised supply chains.

The project is led by Keiran Whitaker of Entocycle and the consortium involves Better Origin and Beta Bugs, AIC (Agriculture Industries Confederation) AB Agri Ltd, Fera Science, Insect Technology Group UK, University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, Cooke Aquaculture Scotland, the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) and Zero Waste Scotland.

ENDS

26 OCTOBER 2020

NOTES TO EDITORS

High-res images available at:
https://warwick.ac.uk/services/communications/medialibrary/images/october_2020/larvae-in-hands-1920_-_credit_entocycle.jpg
Caption: Larvae in Hands. Credit: Entocyle

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:

Alice Scott
Media Relations Manager – Science
University of Warwick
Tel: +44 (0) 7920 531 221
E-mail: alice.j.scott@warwick.ac.uk

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:

Alice Scott
Media Relations Manager – Science 
University of Warwick 
Tel: +44 (0) 7920 531 221
E-mail: alice.j.scott@warwick.ac.uk