Developing Commercial Cordyceps Production

Final report for FNE18-890

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2018: $14,996.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2019
Grant Recipient: Fungi Ally
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Willie Crosby
Fungi Ally
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Project Information


We aimed to continue to develop an economical method for cultivation of cordyceps and help make this information more widely available. To do this we tested two different variables in Cordyceps production, strain and container. First we grew out 144 jars of 5 different strains of cordyceps, we repeated this process 2 times. Next we trialed different containers including trays, jars, and bags. The trays had increased contamination and the bags were too slow in producing from the spawn we used. We found that strain selection was extremely important. A strain cultured from a produce market in Shanghai turned out to be the highest yielding followed by a strain from India. We did not find a container alternative to pint mason jars, this will be an important step to streamlining cordyceps production and decreasing labor. The ability to successful grow cordyceps in trays or beds would greatly increase the economics of this crop. The highest average yield we got per jar was 12 grams. We published a guidebook about cordyceps cultivation which is available through for download and was shared with a 5,000 person mailing list. We also conducted several webinars and on site farm tours to share our work with Cordyceps. 

Project Objectives:

This project had 5 objectives:

  1. Increase the number of species available for commercial mushroom growers in the Northeast. 
  2. Increase profitability and longevity for mushrooms farmers. Rather than focus on just shiitake and oyster mushrooms, keep small farms on the cusp of new mushroom species that can be cultivated.
  3. Expand the market for mushroom farmers. Allow mushroom farmers to move into the high value market of supplements.
  4. Educate farmers and consumers what cordyceps is and how it is grown.
  5. Improve health through consumption of agricultural products.

Cordyceps is one of the highest valued mushrooms cultivated in the world currently. The US market for cordyceps is rapidly growing in the supplemental and herbal markets, generally higher value markets than fresh produce. This creates an opportunity for growers in the northeast to diversify their products while serving a growing market demand. This study looked at basic production variables including strain and container. We measured the impact of each on yield. The difference between Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis is important to distinguish and necessary for both farmers and consumers. Cordyceps militaris is a species that grows in the northeast. Wild strains were cultivated in this experiment but cultures from China and India did much better in terms of yield. Fungi Ally has become an education and spawn production business. We now have two high yielding strains of cordyceps in our culture library. We can now grow these high value mushrooms with some profitability. 


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Materials and methods:

This project explored the commercial viability of growing Cordyceps militaris. We conducted trials on strain and container. With this data we can push forward with the commercial production of this potentially economical medicinal mushroom. We tested 5 different strains and three different containers.
This happened in three different phases:
1.Trialing strain
2. Trialing fruiting container
3. Finally continuing education and outreach.

1st Phase: This phase consisted of trials with different strains to gain data on what is the most productive strain.

March 1st 2018- Prepared, sterilized and inoculated 45 pint sized jars.

1 gallon water

1/2 cup starch

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

2 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp azomite

5 scoops baby food


This makes 72 pint jars.

First, 2 TBSP rice was placed in wide-mouth pint jars. Next, all other ingredients were mixed in a large mixing bowl until they were dissolved. Finally, a ¼ cup of the liquid was poured into each Mason jar. The lid with a polyfill filter is placed on top of the jar and screwed on. The jar is then loaded into the sterilizer. Polyfill is used to stuff many pillows and can be purchased at most big department stores. A hole is punched into the top of the lid of a jar using a screwdriver and then a ball of the polyfill is pressed into this hole so it is sticking out of both the top and bottom. This acts as a low-budget air filter. Sterilization was done in a 28-quart All American sterilizer. The temperature was brought up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and maintained for about 3 hours. The cooker was then allowed to cool overnight before inoculation. The jars were then inoculated with an agar wedge of the desired strain. Incubation was done in a small closet at about 65 degrees 


April 13th 2018 - Transfered jars under fruiting conditions which is at 60 degrees fahrenheit and under led lights on a 12/12 light timer (12 hours on, 12 hours off). 

May 15th: Record harvest data. We dried both substrate and mushrooms. 

Phase 2: Once that phase was complete we trialed different containers. 

The same process as above was used but instead of jars we used bags, trays and jars. We exclusively used the Shanghai strain for this part of the trial. 

Research results and discussion:

Strain and substrate trials were critical. We ended up using a single substrate formula to eliminate variables and continue to build on existing knowledge base. Of the five strains tested only 2 fruited well. The most productive strain was from a clone from a cordyceps mushroom in Asia. With cordyceps strain seems to be extremely important and in Asia where this mushroom is cultivated for the culinary market they have spent years in strain development. For this reason I recommend using the Shanghai strain. 

Strain substrate weight Mushroom weight Average mushrooms per gram of substrate number of jars number of jars only with fruiting average weight per jar
average weight per jar only with fruiting
WPB 1441.35 62.44 0.04332 33 17 1.892121212 3.672941176
2NB1 3088.345 122.96 0.03981 28 17 4.391428571 7.232941176
RUP 2046.04 411.49 0.20111 41 39 10.03634146 10.55102564
Shanghai 1971.57 441.05 0.2237 38 38 11.60657895 11.60657895
/007 contaminated            
/003 543.89 105.56 0.194 11 11 9.596363636 9.596363636


From this trial I found producing just cordyceps mushrooms will not be a viable economic crop. If also processing and selling the substrate of the cordyceps it is possible to make this product economically viable. It is not like other agricultural crops as it is a specialized market that is willing to pay a higher price and typically requires processing. Strictly sold as a fresh mushroom cordyceps is still not an economical crop. A process which greatly reduces manual labor would need to be developed. If selling both mushrooms and substrate to a high end supplement market cultivation can be profitable. 


3 containers were trialed. Jars, bags, and trays. It was possible to fit many more bags into the pressure cooker at once but colonization was extremely slow or did not happen. This process may work with liquid culture but with agar transfers the wedge consistently got stuck on the plastic above the substrate. This prevented the mycelium from ever jumping off into the substrate. Trays were successful in crop production but a smaller amount of substrate could fit into the pressure cookers. During this process we determined glass pint jars are still the best current container for production. 


Both fruiting and incubation were very simple. This is one of the advantages to cordyceps cultivation. They require very little environmental adjustments for both incubation and fruiting. Fruiting was done in a converted walk in cooler that maintained temperatures at 65. During the summer one round of production which had started pinning was completely aborted because the AC turned off for 4 days. Temperatures spiked into the 80's and all pins were aborted. These jars never fruited.


Research conclusions:

This study aimed to look at basic cultivation practices like strain, container, and substrate formula. I decided not to look at substrate formula and to focus on strain and container use. Strain is a critical piece to success with better yields coming from strains which have been developed for commercial production, these are mostly available in Asia. This study also aimed to find out if cordyceps is an economically viable mushroom for farmers to produce. I think this greatly depends on the market available to the farmer and the potential for processing on or off the farm. If substrate is used as well as fruiting bodies, processed, and marketed as a US grown supplement with mushroom fruiting bodies production can be economically viable. 

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

1 Consultations
1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 On-farm demonstrations
3 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

75 Farmers participated
1 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities
Education/outreach description:

One on farm consultation demonstrating the process of growing cordyceps and likely challenges and opportunities. 

One on farm demonstration in which 10 people attended.

Two online webinar conducted by Willie Crosby and William Padilla-Brown attended by 20 people

One workshop at NOFA MA

A guidebook on production and economic viability of Cordyceps was produced and is available to the public. 

Learning Outcomes

14 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

Learning methods of the cordyceps cultivation process. Strain development and new strains from Shanghai were introduced. Awareness of cordyceps cultivation via guidebook development. 

Project Outcomes

3 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
Project outcomes:

We have found the best strain to work with for growing cordyceps. We are also very particular in the channel we pursue for sales of cordyceps.


Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Further research can be conducted in the following areas 

  1. Growing in trays
  2. Treating media with atmospheric steam
  3. Studying in China, Thailand, South Korea on cultivation techniques there, as large scale commercial operations currently exist.
  4. Developing grain spawn for cordyceps
  5. Market analysis for cordyceps fruiting body as a supplement or food
  6. The different compounds and quantities of compounds between fruiting bodies and mycelium grown on rice.

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.