USDA data shows a remarkable increase in demand for mushrooms; US per capita consumption of mushrooms was 2.7 pounds in 1978, but is now over 4 lbs. In 2016 and 2017, specialty mushroom (non-agaricus) sales have consistently increased at a rate of 4% per year (USDA), with overall mushroom sales in US increasing by over 15%. Domestic production of specialty mushrooms, while more than doubling since 2010, is still substantially low, with only 229 farmers reporting growing specialty mushrooms. According to the most recent USDA report, both the number of growers and overall production volume rates have been declining over the past three seasons. To become a significant niche crop within US Agriculture, agencies, universities, and extension networks must actively collaborate to offer more robust support to growers in every step of their development.
Previous research projects indicated that new farmers can enter open markets and find good returns from specialty mushroom production, and existing farms can readily incorporate production alongside their other crop systems. In an industry with tight margins, farmers are reluctant to adopt new crops or practices until they see others succeeding and when there is a well-developed support network advocating for a practice and offering support. As a competent network grows, more farms will be able to understand the possibilities and are likely to increase adoption of specialty mushroom production.
There are currently few service providers in the Northeast skilled in supporting specialty mushroom production with even basic information on how to get started. Interested growers must search random online resources and engage in trial and error. A recent survey of service providers received 38 responses, with 51% of respondents indicating that demand for information on mushrooms was substantial or overwhelming, while 73% rated their ability to meet the demand with information to be fair or poor.
This project will develop a complete curriculum for specialty mushroom production along with a companion teacher’s manual that outlines workshop formats, key messages, and activities that educators can use to effectively teach specialty mushroom cultivation. Additionally, our educational team will develop a process to train and certify mushroom educators, building a competent cohort of service providers to further train other educators as well as farmers from both rural and urban centers.
Performance targets from proposal:
Forty service providers demonstrate their improved knowledge and skills by each training at least 25 farmers (1000 total) on specialty mushroom production. Twelve educators achieve an advanced mushroom production certification and teach another 20 educators and 300 farmers.