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How Chapul Farms’ BSFL are Revolutionizing Agriculture and Waste Management

Black soldier fly

Chapul Farms is an insect agriculture project development company that designs, builds, and operates commercial-scale Black Soldier Fly Larvae (BSFL) facilities. Their mission is to restore biodiversity to agriculture, soil, and planet Earth for a more sustainable, resilient, and secure food system. We connected with Michael Place, CTO of Chapul Farms, to discuss the organization’s mission, its environmental goals, how larvae are providing a food-secure future, and much more. 

About Michael Place

  • Chief (Eco) Technology Officer
  • Digital background for 20 years leading projects and integrating complex technologies at an enterprise level, including consulting for Hewlett Packard in Europe.

At the age of 20, Michael underwent a transformative health experience centered around fresh food, breaking away from fast food. That led him to become a backyard gardener, beekeeper, and compost enthusiast. Around a dozen years ago, he recognized the potential of insects’ role in our ecosystem and how we can move forward in the world of ag-tech. He noticed that only a few companies worldwide were exploring this concept, which pushed him to focus on developing systems within the urban permaculture movement on the East Coast.

Over time, Michael’s research into the industry’s direction deepened, leading to partnering with Pat Crowley, CEO of Chapul Farms. Their collaboration resulted in the launch of a vision to implement large-scale systems. Notably, their approach also extends benefits to smallholder farmers globally, exemplified by a Tanzania project initiated in 2016. This dual approach aims to address waste issues while generating high-demand commodities. His involvement spans a wide range, from technology and science to collaboration with fellow experts and companies worldwide.

Michael’s responsibilities encompass a range of fields, including entomology, microbiology, biology, soil science, and fermentation. This intricate interplay forms a complex microbial circular supply chain. By maintaining an extensive global network of collaborators, the team behind Chapul Farms seeks to accelerate industry growth and drive education about their contributions. On the technology front, their partnership with Nexus PMG, a sustainable infrastructure engineering firm, amplifies their efforts. Together, the two organizations are constructing sophisticated biological systems that incorporate cutting-edge engineering in North Dakota.

You May Have Seen Chapul Farms on TV

“Chapul Farms made headlines in 2014 when Mark Cuban invested in the first US cricket protein bar on Shark Tank, catalyzing financial, regulatory, and market growth of the broader insect industry. Chapul Farms, an evolution founded in 2018 to focus specifically on BSFL applications, has a bigger mission: transform food systems with insect biology. Chapul Farms’ path reflects a concerted effort to weave insects back into the fabric of our agricultural landscape. It began with creating market demand, then the model worked its way back down into the supply chain.” Chapul Farms Website

Pat Crowley, CEO of Chapul Farms
Michael Place, CTO of Chapul Farms
Aly Moore, COO of Chapul Farms

Did you know that, according to Project Drawdown, diverting organics from landfills is the number one most actionable item to address climate change? Chapul Farms’ solution? Insects. According to Chapul Farms, “Insects are a keystone species to soil biodiversity that leverage millions of years of microbiological evolution to process organic material into healthy protein and fat, add microbial life to agricultural soils, eliminate food waste, decrease agricultural GHG emissions, and decrease reliance on fossil fuel and unsustainable inputs to plant and animal agriculture.”

Chapul Farms, led by Pat Crowley (CEO), Michael Place (CTO), and Aly Moore (COO), operates within the realm of insect agriculture, drawing inspiration from Mother Nature’s playbook. Their process begins with utilizing waste streams, low-value co-products, and underutilized materials. These feedstocks undergo various treatments, including consistency and moisture adjustments through fermentation and microbes. The next step involves feeding these materials to insects, Mother Nature’s circular recycling process. Through bioconversion, these insects transform the feedstock into high-quality premium protein.

We sell insect farms as solutions to customers with organic waste streams. Farms are customized and co-located, depending on the client. Our project development services turn organic waste costs into valuable products with a positive climate impact. To scale this solution, Chapul Farms partnered with Nexus PMG."
Chapul Farms Website

This innovative process stands out for its speed, especially when compared to less environmentally friendly waste management methods like landfilling. Chapul Farms’ approach results in valuable coproducts that find significant utility in agriculture. These co-products serve as livestock feed and as a biofertilizer, which holds great promise for enhancing soil health. Furthermore, the company collaborates with growers to optimize application rates and context-specific use.

The co-product composition itself is noteworthy, encompassing organic matter rich in beneficial compounds and diverse microbial life. This unique blend contributes to soil health by offering structures akin to natural fertilizers, microbe-rich components, and efficient water management capabilities. Chapul Farms has dedicated over a decade to refining its methods. While they initially worked with crickets and even gained attention from Mark Cuban’s investment on Shark Tank, they have since focused exclusively on Black Soldier Fly Larvae (BSFL) for the past 5 years. This particular insect species holds immense potential for largescale applications, whether in municipal waste management, sustainable feed ingredients, or circular agricultural practices, such as those increasingly seeing adoption in North Dakota.

Inside The Tech

The process begins with the inception of a waste stream, which often contains moisture and comes in various shapes and sizes. This diversity is crucial for supporting the insects, the beneficial microbes they host and optimizing the efficiency of their process. Chapul Farms handles substantial volumes of waste, transforming it in a span of six to seven days, a significant improvement from the former three-week timeline in the early stage of the industry. This progression reflects the team’s enhanced understanding of the insects involved and their efficient conversion of the material at play.

Upon receiving multiple waste streams, Chapul Farms initiates pretreatment, including physical processes like shredding and resizing, as well as fermentation. These prepared materials are then introduced into an expansive tray-based system and housed in commercial-scale BSFL facilities. Thousands of trays are meticulously managed, maintaining optimal conditions of depth, moisture, and ambient conditions. Within this environment, they introduce newborn insect larvae, which swiftly consume thousands of times their own weight over the course of a week.

Following this stage, they separate produced materials based on their intended use. Larvae, a crucial protein source, is dried and can undergo a further defatting process, and the residual frass, is separated and dried as well. These two refined co-products are then prepared for distribution. The procedure, while seemingly straightforward, mirrors some of the principles and techniques practiced in waste management and agricultural organizations, but supercharged with insects reducing the energy required and radically increasing the quality and uses of the outputs. The huge challenges of responsibly managing waste and embracing circularity are shared among various industries, necessitating strategic and innovative solutions.

Chapul Farms’ role involves optimizing the waste materials, which are then fed to the insects within their traybased system. The insects play a significant role in processing the materials, contributing to the majority of the work within the trays. They then ensure that the resulting products are market-ready.

Which industries are you working with growers on the most?

“Let’s begin by focusing on the livestock industry, which is currently in a more advanced state and experiencing higher demand. Our company produces two co-products in this area. To put things into perspective, the global compound feed market involves a substantial amount of protein-rich feed, totaling approximately 1.2 billion tons. A significant portion of this relies on mono-crops like corn and soy, which have played a significant role due to their cost-effectiveness and efficiency.

On the premium end of the feed spectrum, we find fishmeal. This product offers a notably dense and highly bioavailable protein and lipid profile. Even at inclusion rates as low as 1-2%, fish meal enhances nutrition for land-based animals. While it can also be used in bulk feeds for caloric content, its concentrated nutritional value stands out. Interestingly, our product occupies a premium position in the market, surpassing the value of fish meal in pricing. Functionally, our product serves as a feed ingredient with a primary focus on quality and sustainability. The two major markets vigorously seeking our BSFL protein. Quality and sustainability drive their interest, guiding formulation decisions based on our product. The most common market form for our larvae is whole dried specimens, although demand for defatted options is growing sharply. This flexibility allows for tailored formulation, particularly in aquaculture where the balance of fat and protein is crucial.

Our larvae protein finds its way into diverse sectors, including global aquaculture, pet food, poultry, swine, and cattle (research stage). While we are currently positioned on the more premium end of the pricing spectrum, the value we offer is farreaching. Beyond being a valuable high-quality protein source, our product brings numerous benefits. Extensive research across various sectors such as aquaculture, poultry, and pet industries has identified broad immunostimulatory properties. These properties position our product as a potential alternative to antibiotics in livestock feed. The inherent resilience of insects, developed over 100s of millions of years of evolution, allows them to counter harmful compounds, thereby reducing pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella. This is particularly relevant in applications such as poultry, where challenges like necrotic enteritis caused by bacteria can be potentially mitigated by our product.”

Michael Place, CTO of Chapul Farms

Did You Know?

Chapul Farms is strategically partnered with Nexus PMG, an energy transition infrastructure advisory, and co-located with the Soil Food Web on Tainable’s 600-acre regenerative farm in McMinnville, OR.

In essence, their journey into the protein market is marked by a commitment to quality, sustainability, and multifaceted benefits. Beyond its role as a premium feed protein, Chapul Farms’ product offers a path toward reducing reliance on other additives, including pharmaceuticals, making it an attractive and valuable proposition for customers.

It’s worth noting that the frass possesses a multitude of exceptional qualities. If you consider the vast number of insects in the Amazon, diligently processing leaves and nutrients, their excrement and remains contribute significantly to the creation of rich, productive soil. In natural contexts, it can be argued that frass is a primary contributor to healthy soils worldwide. Chapul Farms’ ongoing research consistently reveals its positive impact across various crop scenarios.

For instance, in their case, the application of a mere 3% frass leads to notable results: an impressive composition of approximately 300 microbes and 65% organic matter. Notably, this results in a substantial enhancement in water retention. To illustrate, when compared to control soil, the inclusion of their frass can help retain an additional 1.5 million gallons of water per inch of rainfall on a 1000-acre plot, owing to its superior water absorption and retention capabilities.

The benefits of frass are indeed substantial, encompassing its ability to catalyze soil health. However, it’s important to acknowledge that soil is an immensely intricate biological entity. Although synthetic methods have demonstrated success in enhancing soil productivity, the journey toward restoring soil health presents challenges and risks, particularly for growers who aim to embrace this direction.

In this context, their engagement in sizeable USDA grants to advance frass-related research is noteworthy. Over the span of a decade or more, Place anticipates that frass will emerge as a transformative factor, potentially surpassing the prominence of protein. This projection is underpinned by its dual significance—not only is frass a voluminous output for them, but it also holds immense potential in addressing concerns associated with energy constraints, nitrogen runoff, and scalability issues prevalent in contemporary agricultural practices.

Chapul Farms

is particularly interested in exploring opportunities in North Dakota, inviting collaboration and inquiries from individuals involved in related fields. The company operates an innovation center in Oregon, where feedstock trials are conducted, diets are optimized, and financial models are developed. This information fuels their development pipeline, leading to the establishment of individual companies for distinct facilities. Michael Place identifies a significant focus on antimicrobial resistance, underlining the pivotal role of the BSFL in addressing this concern.

Currently, Chapul Farms is in the process of raising a Series A funding round of $10 million for their overarching project, offering a distinctive approach known as a 506(c) crowdfunding model tailored for accredited investors. They are actively engaging with individuals who share an interest in contributing to their mission outside of traditional financial avenues. While the project’s prospects appear promising, they remain open to conversations with potential investors and entities that can provide support.

The implications for growers are profound. By integrating frass into their operations, they can accelerate the process of soil rejuvenation, all while maintaining consistent yields. This holistic approach encompasses heightened microbial activity and augmented organic matter levels—effectively encapsulating the journey toward composting and nurturing organic soil.

Practically speaking, frass can be utilized in its wet form, providing a versatile solution for growers. This convenience extends to the option of picking up frass directly from Chapul Farms’ facility. While some initial trials may be necessary to optimize usage strategies, they are exploring additional possibilities such as pelletization and potential blends with other elements like biochar. The adaptability of frass underscores its potential to cater to individual grower needs, encompassing factors like crop variety, conditions, equipment, and overall objectives.

Ultimately, as growers embrace the inherent qualities of frass and recognize its alignment with their existing processes, a clearer understanding of its tangible benefits emerges. To facilitate this comprehension, they’re actively collaborating with growers through a comprehensive series of trials. Their endeavors extend across regions, from Oregon to North Dakota, as they strive to provide tailored insights and solutions that resonate with diverse growers and their unique circumstances. In essence, frass presents a practical, impactful tool that holds the potential to redefine and elevate agricultural practices.

About Chapul Farms

Chapul Farms is active across the spectrum of insect agriculture development. They work with a variety of clients to incorporate insects and insect-based research into overlapping areas of impact. They also work to develop a customized approach to how your organization and initiatives can benefit from the vast potential to engage with the circle that is insect agriculture.

Michael, along with the rest of the Chapul Farms team, has expressed a commitment to cultivating enduring partnerships while outlining their ongoing venture into building a lasting facility. They emphasize their intent to establish a strong presence in ag-tech, over an extended period, for a better future. The company seeks to engage with like-minded growers who share an interest in soil health and collaborative efforts to build long-term relationships focused on bettering our planet.

Chapul Farms advocates for their nature-based approach, underscoring its sustainability advantages and projecting its significance as a substantial industry pillar in the coming years. Despite being relatively unknown to many, the approach is already gaining traction on a global scale within the industry, and we can’t wait to see where they go next.

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