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Crickets are the answer for farming family struggling with drought

Grace Whiteside and Anita Butcher, Sunday September 15, 2019 - 08:27 EST
ABC licensed image
Tim Schubert and his son Zachery hope to eventually breed their crickets for human consumption. - ABC licensed

When beach volleyball player Zachery Schubert began a degree in nutrition, he did not expect to emerge as a cricket farmer.

The young man decided he would pursue insect breeding as a way of diversifying his family's farm during drought times at Pyap, in South Australia's Riverland.

The operation began out of Zachery's Adelaide-based carport late last year, but when it became too much for one person to handle, his dad Tim decided to get involved.

"He was so happy to do something like this, so [I thought] we might as well bring them home," Tim said.

The pair moved the crickets from Adelaide to the family's Pyap property at the start of 2019, and 'Schubugs' was born.

Locals supplying locals

From the outside, the two shipping containers housing the Schuberts' cricket operation look out of place, sitting in the middle of the dry and open property, surrounded by sheds and farm machinery.

But inside is a hive of activity as the pair work to build up breeding stocks to supply a local pet and fodder store in the region.

Michele Kokegei runs the Waikerie-based business and said having a local supplier made her job easier.

"Having a local [supplier], and helping a local as well, was an opportunity [to] actually stock some of their crickets within our lines," she said.

"Schubugs aren't quite up to the capacity of what we go through at the moment but eventually, [they] will be able to supply our store in full."

Zachery said it was important to support other local businesses during the big dry.

"By finding ways to help the community, to create jobs, to find different ways of living, is a huge goal of mine," he said.

"I'd love to be able to supply and support families in the region. I love this town, I love everything about the Riverland."

Diversifying during drought

Tim Schubert said it had been a particularly tough year on their citrus and grain farm.

"This last week the crops have really gone downhill quick; we've had little showers to keep them going, but we've had no subsoil moisture," he said.

Zachery said crickets were a sustainable product during dry times as they consumed such little water.

"They use next to nothing compared to cattle farming or cropping, chicken farming, [or] piggeries," he said.

"It's incredible how sustainable they are, so even in the years that we're having right now, we'd be able to farm crickets."

His dad said it would take time to breed enough crickets to generate a significant income and estimated they currently had around 25,000 critters.

"It wouldn't even cover costs, what we're getting now," Tim said.

"We'd [need], I would nearly say, three containers at least before we actually started making any money."

Aiming for human consumption

While the father and son currently only supply their crickets to pet stores, they hope to in the near future, once more guidelines are in place.

"That's the goal, that's the whole reason I started breeding crickets — for the purpose of human consumption," Zachery said.

"Some of the bigger farmers here in Australia [have] had anywhere between 60 to 70 per cent protein [found in their crickets].

"In 100 grams of crickets there's 60 grams of protein, which is huge; that's three times the amount of protein than beef."

Kerry Wilkinson, from the University of Adelaide's School of Agriculture, Food, and Wine, said insects would be a viable source of food in the future, for both nutritional and environmental reasons.

"Crickets need less water, less feed and less space compared to traditional livestock," Dr Wilkinson said.

"Insects offer a genuine solution to some of the food security issues that we might not experience in Australia right now, but that might be coming in the future."

She said warmer and drier conditions meant it would become increasingly challenging for farmers to grow crops and farm livestock.

"It means that these resources are going to become less available and then, when they are available, they're going to become more expensive," Dr Wilkinson said.

Cracking the insect-eating stigma

The young athlete turned cricket farmer said his time studying nutrition and travelling the world had opened his eyes to more sustainable sources of food, such as bugs.

But he said the biggest barrier to this emerging industry was the stigma around consuming insects.

"I found when I was holding that cricket up in my mouth, I was like 'what is this?'," he said.

"But once you break that stigma of getting it in your mouth, it's just normal food.

"A lot of people are finding different ways of actually blending [insects] in with their food, so turning it into a powdered form and then adding it into their pastries, into their smoothies, into their protein shakes."

Zachery said once the Australian guidelines on producing crickets became more clear, he and his dad were ready to expand.

"I've got a notepad full of different insects I want to get my hands on one day," he said.

"There's a whole world out there!"


© ABC 2019

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