Possibility of virus keeps Louisiana cricket business on alert

Linda Benedict, Morgan, Johnny W.  |  9/13/2013 12:48:36 AM

A virus that has crippled the cricket industry in Europe keeps West Baton Rouge Parish breeder and grower David Fluker alert, but optimistic.

His operation, Fluker Cricket Farm in Port Allen, has been in business since the 1950s when his father started it as a fish bait enterprise.

"There are a number of cricket farms in the state and around the country, but we’re a little different," Fluker said. "We’re the only farm that has crickets and other pet products. We’ve kind of joined the two together."

Fluker and his 24 employees ship more than 5 million crickets a week out of his facility to Petco, PetSmart, Wal-Mart and mom and pop stores across the nation.

Larger farms like his are more interested in shipping their crickets for animal feed, such as for reptiles and birds at zoos, he said. Even hedgehogs like to eat crickets.

As the threat of the virus becomes more likely, Fluker has decided to breed some wild species not affected by the virus with help from LSU AgCenter entomologist Chris Carlton.

"We pretty much have a closed industry," Fluker said. "We don’t sell to anybody anybody here; it’s all mail-ordered. We even bake our mail for sterilization."

The virus wiped out the cricket industry in Europe in the late 1990s, Fluker said. "Around 2009 is when the virus was known to be here in America. We haven’t seen it in the state yet."

Fluker’s business stays steady through the year, but shipping becomes an issue during the winter when he ships to cold climates like Billings, Mont.

"There are also some summer shipping issues, and we have to adjust the packaging for the high temperatures," Fluker said.

Johnny Morgan is a writer in Communications.

(This article was published in the summer 2013 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)

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