Fly Zone

BY JOE ROJAS-BURKE

The black soldier fly’s larvae are among the most ravenous and least picky eaters on earth.

1114next next 1114 250pxBY JOE ROJAS-BURKE

During a brief adult life of four or five days, the black soldier fly spends its time focused on mating, an act performed aerially. It does not pause to eat, lacking the mouth parts for that. The fly’s larvae, on the other hand, are among the most ravenous and least picky eaters on earth. They readily devour rotting food, cannery waste, hog manure and other garbage, transforming it into high-quality protein and fat. That’s caught the attention of entrepreneurs who think soldier flies can be harnessed to recycle waste and grow larvae that can be processed into livestock feeds and perhaps even supplements for people. “If you leave it looking like a maggot, that’s obviously going to be a hurdle,” says Terry Green, a biochemist, consultant and businessman who runs a pilot plant in North Plains that recycles about 20 tons a year of restaurant scraps using soldier fly larvae. Their frass (the polite word for bug poop) makes an excellent soil amendment, says Green, who began researching soldier-fly recycling in a collaboration with Portland State University. He’s working with an organic farmer in Oregon, a tomato processor in California and other businesses seeking more cost-effective ways to deal with waste. Black soldier flies work more efficiently and produce less stinky emissions than composting operations. When the larvae are fully plumped up and ready for metamorphosis, they crawl out of their garbage pile for easy harvest. Production of livestock food hasn’t taken off, in part because of unclear federal regulations. But what’s really holding back the technology is the inability to scale it up for use by cities and industries that have to deal with mountains of waste each year. Green says the technical hurdles are surmountable. “It’s only a matter of time before large-scale production is practical and routine.” 

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