Lazy H Bait – oldest commercial insect farm in the state

Production manager Rusty Holland gives a tour of the property and explains the breeding and shipping process. (Submitted photo/Tara Ionescu)

It is the oldest commercial insect farm in the state of Florida and despite setbacks it continues to breed crickets of all shapes and sizes, mealworms, superworms and discoid roaches. Lazy H Bait has been a family operated business since 1987. Brad Ross took ownership of the farm on September 10, 2010 and has dealt with a lot of adversity since then.

When Ross took over the farm in 2010 he had build up their sales from a million to a million and a half crickets and a quarter of a million super worms: “We were doing good for a while,” Ross explains, “until we got hit with a virus in 2012. It affected a lot of different cricket farms and put several of them out of business.”

“At the time there was a belief that another type of cricket, called a banded cricket, was either immune or resistant to the virus,” says Ross, “so I made arrangements with another cricket farm; we started buying tons of banded crickets and bred them until the production manager at the time said that we were ready to start selling again. Mind you, this was on a Friday, the following Monday he came back in with bad news; apparently the banded crickets weren’t immune to the virus at all and most of them had died over the weekend. It took us about two years to rebuild and come back from the virus,” Ross explains.

“Now we are set back again by the hurricane and still trying to deal with the damages,” says Ross as he shows the damage on the outside of the buildings. “We lost a lot of insects from the cold as well, it is hard to keep the rooms to a certain temperature when it’s that cold outside. The business really has its ups and downs. Plus crickets are not really flexible; they like it around 92 degrees, if their needs aren’t met, they die, and they can kill themselves in a multitude of ways; they can overeat, they can’t be too crowded or too clean or too hot. Crickets used to be a lot more durable then they are now, but because they are bred so much, they get weaker.”

The current production manager Rusty Holland gives a tour of the property and explains the breeding and shipping process: “A lot of our customers use it mostly for reptile food, like lizards or turtles and even ducks. Only the crickets are also used as bait. The worms can’t be used as bait because they would drown underwater,” Holland explains. “The wheat bran substrate of the worms is also their food, they dig in it and live in it. They can not actually drink so we hydrate them by giving them watermelons and cucumbers. We found out that the discoid roaches are especially fond of oranges. Once the insects are ready to be shipped we manually pack them in boxes and bring them to the post office in LaBelle. Only the really big orders I personally deliver myself,” Holland states.

“Each insect-type has different needs,” Ross goes on, “every insect has idiosyncrasies associated with it. At some point you are able to ‘read the bin’ as I call it; when you look in the bin you are able to see what those insects need, based on what they’re doing and how much food there is. So, instead of working on it in a standardized manner, ideally, we would like our employees to look in each bin and see that the insects need more food or more vegetables, and it really takes a while to get that feel.”

Ross was in corporate market research before he took over the farm and says it has helped him in his new line of work: “Just like any kind of farmer you are at the mercy of the elements and nature and every variable that comes with breeding,” states Ross, “resolving problems and coming up with better, cheaper and faster ways to do things. And we really have come up with ideas that made things better, quicker and cheaper. When I was in market research, I was very heavily involved in new product development. There are a lot of opportunities here to be creative and come up with new ways to deal with problems,” Ross explains, “and that is what I enjoy about this.”

For more information check out www.lazyhbait.com.

Geoffrey Ionescu can be reached at cbnews@newszap.com

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