Most people wouldn’t expect a former NASA scientist to turn to a life of bug farming, but for Greg Wanger, CEO of Halifax-based Oberland Agriscience, that’s the path he’s taken.

But Wanger’s bug farm is far from child’s play. Oberland is tackling the challenge of food insecurity by turning organic waste into a nutritious insect feed for black soldier fly larvae, which can then become a high-quality protein food for the pet, aquaculture and agricultural industries. With the fast life cycle and low space requirements of the black soldier fly, the company can produce about a hundred thousand times more protein per hectare than corn or soy.

“You can grow huge volumes of insects with lower resource intensity than with conventional crop farming,” says Wanger. “We can harvest our protein every 12 days. It’s indoors, it’s all controlled and we can actually stack vertically. So we can cram a lot of insects into a small space to really get a lot of bang  per square foot.”

By using Nova Scotian pre-consumer organic waste as a food for the larvae, the protein can become a true local protein source for local business. “Nova Scotia is an ideal place to start a soldier fly farm because there’s green waste everywhere, but also because of the large aquaculture operations that we have here and the struggle they are facing to find sustainable protein to feed the fish,” says Wanger.

The company also collects data on their operations in order to optimize the process as much as possible. For example, they track volumes of organics received and consumed, which helps them understand the growth characteristics of the soldier fly and then determine the size of the facility they need. “We don’t want to build it any larger than we have to, because in our Nova Scotia’s climate, the more space you have to heat or worry about is just energy that is wasted.”

Oberland started in 2017 and expects to soon grow to 8 employees. They are working on scaling their operations. Their pilot facility will produce 30 to 50 tons of soldier fly per year, and aims to be certified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as a feed mill for aquaculture and poultry.

With the increasing demand for high quality sustainable protein sources in Atlantic Canada and around the world, Wanger is excited for the future. “The momentum is building and there’s a lot of things in motion,” he says. “You come into work knowing that every day you’re bettering the environment and the community.”

Find out more about Oberland Agriscience.

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