Cricket farming is a special case within edible insects. Hundreds of species of insects are eaten globally, but most of them are just collected from the wild. Few species are farmed and, aside from silkworms, insect farming has never been studied and optimized to an industrial level.
In the last 30 years, Thailand has become one of the few countries with a high number of insect farms, of which the majority are cricket farms. The business model is usually a family-owned micro-farm.
The development of cricket farming in Thailand has been facilitated by the activity of Khon Kaen University, with some support by the United Nations’ FAO office in Bangkok. As a result, the total production per year is said to be between 3,000 and 7,000 tons of crickets (depending if the data source is the Ministry of Agriculture or the Khon Kaen University).
Thai cricket farming activity is conducted on an informal basis, which makes it difficult to ascertain the total number of farmers with any precision and explains the lack of official tonnage figures. Since 2018, the Thai Ministry of Agriculture has been planning a census of the cricket farms, and a training activity aimed at certifying their rearing processes under the GAP (Good Agriculture Practices) guidelines that it released in November 2017.
Thai farmers used to farm crickets in concrete cylinders, plastic boxes, wood and other types of containers, but more recently large pens with a concrete perimeter are becoming the rearing standard. These rearing areas are easy to clean, cheap to build and very resistant.
Inside the pen, the living space for the crickets is provided by dozens of egg trays. The rearing pens and the farm are protected with mosquito nets to prevent other insects from entering.
The two cricket species reared in Thailand are the Acheta domesticus and the Gryllus bimaculatus. The Gryllus bimaculatus is said to be a stronger, more resilient species and, though less popular than the Acheta domesticus, still represents a significative percentage of the total Thai production.
Cricket eggs are initially purchased or provided by crickets collected from the wild. As soon as the male crickets stridulate, bowls containing clean porous material such as rice husk ash or sand are placed in the area where the females lay the eggs. Egg incubation lasts 7 to 10 days. Each harvesting cycle is between 4 and 5 weeks.
Around 2 to 3 days before harvesting, crickets are usually fed with pumpkins, cassava leaves or other vegetables instead of the usual packaged cricket feed made of grains and agricultural by-pass products.
Theoretically, it might be possible to have up to 11 cycles per year, each of 33 days. However, a number of 5 or 6 cycles, each lasting up to 45 days, is more realistic in the typical Thai farm. Clearly, this simple farm has very low costs for the farmers, although higher standards are being introduced following the guidelines released by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Since 2010, integrated larger farms and processing facilities have emerged. While small farms are meant for domestic consumption of whole crickets, these factory-farms are designed for intensive cricket farming and to produce cricket flour for export. By adopting international food standards and being certified by HACCP auditing bodies, they bring edible insects to the next level and thanks to their scale, they are also bringing cricket flour prices down year after year.