A desire to produce a sustainable protein source for animals and ultimately human consumption is the premise behind fledgling Riverland cricket farming business Schubugs.
Owner Zachery Schubert runs Schubugs at his family's cropping and citrus farm on the outskirts of Loxton, where they have a singular 12-metre container set-up, but that may change within the next 12 months.
Zachery said he formed the cricket business just over a year ago, inspired by a food sustainability project he did as part of his nutrition and exercise science degree at the University of SA.
"Crickets are not only sustainable and really easy to grow, but they're super nutritious," he said.
"In 100 grams of crickets, there is about 60g of protein. It is also a good source of vitamin B12.
"I had also eaten crickets and other bugs on my own travels across Asia and didn't mind the taste of them - a bit nutty, a bit earthy and not really strong, which makes them ideal to make into a something like a protein powder to mix into smoothies and pastries.
"So for my assignment I decided to give cricket production a crack, with the aim of eventually making protein powder from them."
Zachery started with about 30 crickets in five boxes in his garage, which then quickly grew to eight boxes and about 100,000 crickets.
"We soon realised we would need a bigger space," he said.
That's when Schubugs relocated to the Schubert farm at Pyap.
"With my farming background, I really liked the idea of farming them on a larger scale, so we moved into an insulated shipping container on-farm," Zachery said.
RELATED READING: Environmental credential labels could be compulsory in EU by 2022
RELATED READING: Sustainable pollination project protects pollinator biodiversity
Zachery said the crickets were extremely low maintenance, only requiring a warm environment, food and a small amount of water.
"Crickets only need 1 litre of water to make 1 kilogram of bodyweight, while cattle use about 15,000L," he said.
"A female cricket can lay anywhere from five to 10 eggs per day, which hatch after about a fortnight.
"It then takes about three months for them to be fully grown adults so they can breed up really quickly in the right conditions."
But Zachery said it had been a "hard slog" growing the business in the past year, with information about the industry either scarce or tightly held.
"We have had to learn the hard way on a lot of things," he said.
"We have made so many mistakes, from drownings to a redback infestation to overheating."
But the young entrepreneur has his sights firmly set on pet food shops and manufacturers in the short-term, and human consumption in the near future.
"What we are running here now is OK for the pet industry, but my ultimate aim is human consumption, which I want to start on within the next 12 months, depending on regulations," he said.
"So not only will we require a new facility that is A-class on health and safety, we will need a lot more of them."
One 12m shipping container can house up to a million crickets.
But this amount is only small-fry, Zachery says, when orders coming in from across Australia, including zoos and Asian supermarkets, want crickets in the millions.
"Even to make 1kg of protein powder requires the equivalent of 4kg of dried crickets liveweight (or about 8000 crickets)," he said.
"One container can produce up to 50kg a week.
"It is why we have stopped selling for now to focus on building our breeding stocks."
Business growth planned as Olympic dreams on hold
THE low maintenance nature of cricket farming means Riverland youngster Zachery Schubert also has time to finish his university degree and continue pursuing his Olympic aspirations.
Zachery, 24, represents Australia in beach volleyball and was in the throes of trying to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics before COVID-19 hit.
"The goal is still Tokyo, but many of the qualifiers were in China, which won't happen anytime soon," he said.
Zachery still plans to follow his Olympic dream, and his ultimate goal of becoming a dietician, while also growing his burgeoning cricket farming business, which is where help from father Tim (pictured) has been required.
"Dad manages the farm while I am in Adelaide, or when I was travelling, which I am immensely grateful for," Zachery said.
"He checks on the crickets every few days, changing the breeding soils and making sure they have food and water."
The crickets are housed in an insulated container, where the temperature sits between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius. They use coconut husk as a breeding soil and recycled egg cartons, which the crickets like to breed on.
"The whole image of crickets is sustainability, not just for a protein source but we also give waste products, like coconut husk and egg cartons, a second life," Zachery said.
The crickets are also fed a grain mix and oranges as a vitamin C source to help build their exoskeleton.
Zachery says demand for crickets is "crazy".
"But this isn't about making a quick buck for me, the goal is to one day create a sustainable protein source, ultimately for human consumption," he said.
- Start the day with all the big news in agriculture. Sign up here to receive our daily Stock Journal newsletter.