The Winsect system offers insect breeding potential through conveyor belts

Breeding insects for animal protein is profitable with the Winsect system. With this method, mealworms are grown on a conveyor belt, which enables easy automation. The concept is also much less labor intensive than growing in boxes.

It became clear during the opening of the mealworm farm Winsect owned by the Haaring family in Aalten, Gelderland. The cost of breeding mealworms is usually high. This is because the production in the current system requires many boxes, labor and expensive robots. In particular, feeding, sieving and separating eggs and beetles are laborious processes. With the Winsect method, the mealworms get their food via an automatic feeding system. The company does not wish to disclose the specific cost difference.

With the relatively simple feeding system, the insects can be beaten off the belt at the end of the breeding period and are easy to harvest. Ten minutes drive of Winsect’s assembly line is equivalent to four hundred boxes. Another advantage of the system is the clear visual control. The view of the racks is good from the corridors of the converted pigsty. The conveyor belts with worm are placed on top of each other in the racks.

Black soldier flying

The Haaring family was contacted in 2019 by a local poultry farmer who wanted to breed mealworms on deck. According to Eelco Haaring, co-founder of Winsect, mealworms are better suited for protein production than, for example, Black Soldier Fly. This black soldier fly is currently the most common insect breed in the world.

Melorms eat dry food and they need a little moisture

Eelco Haaring, co-founder of Winsect

‘A mealworm eats dry food, needs a little moisture, and the beetle does not fly,’ explains Haaring. ‘Because the insect is a cold-blooded animal, it has an efficient feed metabolism and leaves no unwanted residues. The mealworm also emits virtually no nitrogen and greenhouse gases due to the use of residual currents. ‘

In addition to the mealworms at Winsect getting their food with a feeding machine, they are supplied with moisture by nebulizers. “It’s easier to automate than to moisten with roots,” Haaring explains. Inputs to the feeding machine are dried local residues, such as leaf residues released during harvest and processing of vegetables at Achterhoek nurseries.

Complete cycle

The complete cycle takes place on the mealworm farm. In addition to the beetles that lay eggs, the entrepreneurs pupate worms so that they can turn into beetles again. It completes the cycle. The end product is on the one hand adult worms and on the other hand mealworm manure (frass). The latter can serve as a nutrient for plants.

Leo den Hartog explained the importance of animal proteins. ‘In 2035, 11 percent of consumption will come from new forms of protein,’ says the former professor of animal nutrition at Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and former director of Research & Development at animal feed producer Nutreco. The role of diric proteins will be crucial in this. And therefore also of the insects. ‘

Research from Nutreco shows that for optimal utilization of the soil for food production, about 40 percent of the recommended daily amount of protein for adults should come from animal proteins. This without creating competition from land use intended for feed or food. According to Den Hartog, this optimal utilization is not possible without a circular economy.

Nutreco is based on three principles in circular food production: The first is that vegetable biomass is the basic building block of food and that it must first be used by humans. The second principle is that by-products from food production, processing and consumption must be reintroduced into the food system. According to the company, it is also important to use animals that they are good at: transforming food into high-quality proteins that people can eat. Livestock consumes approximately 6 billion tons of dry matter annually as feed, of which 86 percent consists of materials that are not currently eaten by humans.

More sustainable than fishing

Arnold van Huis reports in his lecture that insects are much more sustainable than fish. According to professor of tropical entomology at Wageningen University & Research and author of the book ‘Insects as food and feed’ (2017), 1 billion euros have already been invested in the European insect industry. He expects that around 3 billion euros will be spent in Europe by 2030. Van Huis believes there is much more knowledge about insects these days. “In particular, little was known about diseases. There are now seven ‘insect doctors’ in training at WUR.’

‘Live mealworms can serve as a substitute for fish feed’

Current fish feed can be replaced by live mealworms for about 50 percent. This is the conclusion of the fish farming company Twentevis from Azelo after a test with mealworms and Black Soldier Fly. In the experiment, the highest growth rate was found in fish that ate half mealworms and half fish feed pellets. The feed turnover of the fish in mealworms was almost equal to conventional fish feed. The dry matter percentage of the mealworms was between 35 and 45 percent. According to Twentevis, the benefits of insects are that the sector can become less dependent on soy and fishmeal.

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