Mushroom supplies could be tight going into fall
There will be mushrooms to be had as summer winds down and fall approaches, but supplies could be tight at times and prices may be a bit higher than usual, grower-shippers say.
Compost problems and limited labor availability have put a damper on shipments from some areas.
The mushroom supply was adequate in mid-July at Phillips Mushroom Farms in Kennett Square, Pa., said sales manager Kevin Donovan.
“But we are expecting a decline in production due to the fact that we are using new composting materials that are fresh off the fields,” he said.
He blamed the troubles on ongoing rainstorms.
“We’ve had so much rain over the past two years that the hay and straw deteriorated tremendously before we could even use it,” he said. “It’s driving up the cost of compost.”
Ideally, hay and straw weather in the field for up to a month before going into the compost pile.
Because of tight supplies, hay and straw are going directly from the field to the compost pile, which can delay optimum production for up to six weeks.
Donovan expects conditions to be back to normal by fall, but growers still may not be out of the woods.
“Even with optimum production, it’s hard to say that we’ll have all the mushrooms we need for the holidays,” he said.
Compost, mold, weather and yield issues have turned up in British Columbia as well.
“We’ve had nothing but issues with whites and browns,” said Joe Salvo, president of Ponderosa Mushrooms & Specialty Foods in Port Coquitlam. “They’ve been super short all summer.”
Labor also has affected mushroom supplies.
Olympia, Wash.-based Ostrom Mushroom Farms has taken two grow rooms out of production because of a lack of labor, said Fletcher Street, director of marketing and sales.
When workers are available, hiring them is expensive.
The cost of labor has risen annually in Washington since 2017 and is scheduled to go up an additional $1.50 per hour in 2020, reaching $13.50.
“That’s huge when it’s a big part of your cost, Street said.
Labor has been an ongoing problem at Phillips Mushroom Farms for the past three years, Donovan said.
“It’s tough to get enough people,” he said.
The shortage started with the harvesting operation and has expanded to the packing facility.
Production was cut back last year because growers anticipated a labor shortfall, Donovan said.
“I think we’ll see the same thing this year.”
To-Jo Mushrooms in Avondale, Pa., tries to ensure an adequate labor force by making happy employees a focus of its business culture, said Kevin Delaney, vice president of sales and marketing.
The company, for example, held a field day and soccer tournament with harvesters and production people to “help retain a great workforce,” he said.
Heavy demand for mushrooms during the spring and summer, when consumers usually cut back somewhat in favor of local berries or stone fruit, also has put pressure on supplies, Street said.
“We’re still seeing strong orders and strong demand and nothing extra out there to purchase,” she said.
Average U.S. terminal market prices for Pennsylvania conventional mushrooms were $13.42 per carton on July 20, up from $13.19 last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Fall and winter holiday periods will tax suppliers’ capacity even more, she said.
Demand for mushrooms can double or triple at that time, and growers don’t have double or triple the production space.
“It is going to be really tough meeting demand for the holidays,” Street said.
Some growers were more upbeat.
“We feel pretty confident that we’re going to be in good shape going into the remainder of this year and the beginning of next,” said Delaney of To-Jo Mushrooms.
“We’ve been able to increase our growing capacity for the growth that we’re forecasting with our existing customers to make sure we’ll have enough to cover holiday demand,” he said.
“The crop for Monterey Mushrooms is outstanding,” said Lindsey Roberts, marketing manager for Monterey Mushrooms Inc., Watsonville, Calif., which has 10 farms throughout the U.S.
“We are prepared and committed to supply our customers in 2019,” she said.