A mushroom centre of excellence key for growth, Teagasc

The All-Ireland and UK Mushroom Conference and Trade ShowThe mushroom industry in Ireland is acknowledged as one of the best in the world. 

According to Teagasc, it is the largest horticultural sector in Ireland with a farm gate value of €112m and 75 per cent is exported to the UK. It employs more than 3,200 people and Teagasc says it has great potential for a further 300 jobs in production and distribution, and another 100 in added-value developments.

The All-Ireland and UK Mushroom Conference and Trade Show is taking place this afternoon in the Hillgrove Hotel in County Monaghan and Teagasc is set to publish its Mushroom Development Plan 2020 Roadmap.

According to the Teagasc Mushroom Stakeholder Consultative Group, the success of the mushroom industry is largely attributed to the entrepreneurial spirit of the key stakeholders including marketeers, growers, compost suppliers, the producer organisation Commercial Mushroom Producers (CMP), with the support of state bodies such as Teagasc, Bord Bia, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

It notes that current mushroom productivity in Ireland is in the region of 30kg mushrooms/m2 of crop area. “Stakeholders suggested that it was possible to increase this to 35 kg/m2 on average but the leading 10 per cent of growers must target yields close to 38 kg/m2 where conditions are favourable,” the report outlines.

In its roadmap, Teagasc has set out an aim to improve mushroom production to 35 kg/m2 by 2020 from current 30 kg/m2 and it says research and development is key to this being achieved.

Research

The areas of research it recommends are: improve quality of casing by establishing specification standards; the need to establish the health benefits of mushrooms and innovative methods of adding value; establish a stakeholder group to prioritise mushroom research needs and guide implementation of same; and create a Mushroom Centre of Excellence to develop superior products that will ensure successful growth and exports of Irish mushrooms and mushroom-related biotechnologies.

In addition it notes that Teagasc and CMP will need to support growers by targeted training and advice to improve productivity, quality and competitiveness.

It also recommends: a continuation of the ‘More to Mushrooms’ promotion in the UK and Ireland with a strong emphasise on taste, versatility, health and sustainability; legislation to regulate unfair competition in the labour market and to establish codes of conduct agreed by all in the supply chain; and spent mushroom substrate  needs to be categorised as a mushroom by-product and not a waste so that its true potential in the biotechnology sector can be exploited.

Among the other main areas of research it hopes to undertake over the coming years include compost innovations and casing quality and standards; adding value to mushrooms and mushroom by-products – such as identify useful pharmaceutical actives in Spent Mushroom Substrate; and identify health promoting bioactives in mushrooms and use this positive information to promote the consumption of mushrooms among other areas.

UK market

Bord Bia notes the UK market for mushrooms is growing steadily in recent years at about two per cent per year. However, sales of mushrooms in Ireland have plateaued in recent years at around 13,000 tonnes, it said. Button/Closed cup mushrooms continue to hold the lion share of the market followed by Flat/Breakfast mushrooms, value mushrooms and then sliced and exotic mushrooms, it found. In addition, Bord Bia has noted that its ‘More to Mushrooms’ campaign over a three-year period in the UK has contributed a 3.8 per cent increase in consumption since 2010.

Teagasc has observed that production has stabilised at 64,000 tonnes with 65 growers producing Agaricus on about 75 production units. Its report notes: “Compost production and mushroom marketing are largely integrated in Ireland with a few companies dominating both areas. Phase three compost is an important driver of competitiveness in the industry as it boosts yields and quality. Casing standardisation and best practice guidelines could provide efficiencies in production up to5 kg/m2. Labour is a very significant cost of production since retail mushrooms are hand picked. Picker training courses have contributed enormously to labour cost efficiencies with the added bonuses of better worker output, satisfaction and improved quality of product. Overall production efficiency can be improved by best practice picking regimes.”

Efficiencies

Teagasc has also found that efficiencies are key to the sector moving forward. “Producer organisations play an important role in the mushroom sector. They provide a vehicle for growers to achieve concentration of supply in a competitive marketplace. They also play an important role in facilitating the drawing down of EU development aid,” it noted.

Commercial Mushroom Producers is now the only mushroom producer organisation in Ireland despite their being 11 at peak in 2003, Teagasc found. “This rationalisation has contributed to the success of the sector. CMP supports approximately 50 member producers and provides a range of services including training and advice, investment and installation of equipment, analysis of markets and planning of production (quantity and quality), investment in research and development, promotion of mushrooms to consumers, marketing of CMP members’ produce and increasing the range of products in order to maximise the returns from the mix of products produced by members.”

In addition, Teagasc is calling on the EU for simplification of the administration of the PO scheme. “Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine is the competent authority for the implementation of the Producer Organisation regulations in Ireland. Like authorities in other member States, DAFM are very concerned at the level of penalties being imposed on Member States following audits of the scheme,” its report noted.

In terms of support services, the main state support services for the mushroom sector are provided by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, Teagasc, Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and County Enterprise Boards. Bord Bia has compiled a guide on the various grant schemes and supports, which is now available on the Bord Bia here.

Teagasc and CMP also provide a Mushroom Harvester Training Programme, which it says, is estimated to increase picking rate by more than 60 per cent with improved mushroom quality and productivity.

The All-Ireland and UK Mushroom Conference and Trade Show takes place this afternoon. More features on AgriLand to follow.

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