Cultivating the Wine Cap Mushroom While Building Soil Health and Suppressing Plant Disease – an Innovative and Economical Approach to Two Common Agricultural Problems

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2017: $7,500.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Field & Forest Products
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Lindsey Bender
Field & Forest Products

Information Products


  • Vegetables: tomatoes
  • Miscellaneous: mushrooms


  • Crop Production: biological inoculants, conservation tillage, cover crops, double cropping, intercropping, multiple cropping, nutrient cycling, nutrient management, organic fertilizers, water management
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Pest Management: biological control, competition, integrated pest management, mulches - general, physical control
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems, permaculture
  • Soil Management: nutrient mineralization, organic matter, soil analysis, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, soil physics, soil quality/health

    Proposal summary:

    Description of farm or ranch and project coordinator background
    Field and Forest Products grows mushrooms commercially for farm markets and co-op accounts and has also
    been producing mushroom spawn and providing growing supplies to commercial cultivators and hobby growers
    for over 30 years. Field and Forest Products also supports its farmer customers by answering grower questions
    about how to grow specialty mushrooms profitably. The 41 acre farm grows and markets Shiitake and Wine cap
    as well as other specialty fungi, with special attention to polyculture of Wine cap and Almond Agaricus in the
    garden and high tunnel setting. Field and Forest Products Inc. is co-owned and operated by Mary Ellen Kozak
    and Joe Krawczyk. The couple are authors of several mushroom cultivation related publications, most notably,
    Growing Shiitake in a Continental Climate. Field and Forest Products recently teamed up with mycologist Lindsey
    Bender who specializes in soil microbial ecology, experimental design, and statistics. She comes from a diverse
    ecological background and has a strong interest in research and development focusing on sustainable practices
    and improving soil health.

    Scott Reuss is a participant and collaborator on this project. He is the head of the agriculture, horticulture, and
    soils department for Marinette, Florence, and Oconto Counties in Wisconsin. He has graciously guided us on the
    science behind this research and assisted in making improvements to the project since the 2014 NCR-SARE
    grant proposal submission of a similar project that did not receive funding.

    Improving Soil Health:
    Plant productivity and growing success is highly dependable on soil health. Unfortunately, areas such as much of
    the North Central region are less conducive to growing because of low natural soil quality or the site’s
    management history. Soil organic matter (SOM) is critical for soil fertility, structure, stability, nutrient retention,
    soil erosion, and water holding capacity. Much of the North Central region is covered by sandy soils that have
    inherently low agricultural value due to both low organic matter and microbial activity. These soils require
    intensive and oftentimes costly soil manipulation to be productive. Options for amending soil organic matter
    include adding a variety of materials from finished compost to raw organic amendments (Cooperband 2002).
    Compost can be expensive to purchase and the on-site production of a sufficient amount of compost for soil
    amendment is time consuming. The addition of raw or slightly processed high carbon organic materials directly to
    the soil is simple and easy, but can take a long time to decompose.

    Biopesticide Potential:
    Plant disease has a direct negative impact on grower economics and is especially problematic in low-quality
    sandy soils. Chemical pesticides used to combat disease have known negative implications to environmental
    health (Chet and Inbar, 1994). Biological control of soil-borne plant pathogens is a potential alternative to the use
    of chemical pesticides. There are already a number of biological agents (microbial biopesticides) commercially
    available for use in crop protection, but criticisms of biopesticides include the organism’s speed of action,
    ecological fitness/persistence in the environment, and application (Butt and Copping 2000).


    Improving Soil Health:
    Soil microorganisms are the basis of the soil food web – they decompose organic matter and recycle nutrients
    making them re-available to plants and increasing soil organic matter (Figure 3a). The addition of organic matter
    is one of the most direct and effective practices to improve soil quality (Scott 2010, Figure 3b). The Wine Cap
    fungus, Stropharia rugosa-annulata (SRA), is an edible specialty mushroom that excels at rapid decomposition of
    straw and woodchips (Ukoima et al. 2009, Bruhn et al. 2010). By growing Wine Cap mushrooms, there is both an
    increase in organic matter additions and microbial activity to the soil surface, which would presumably lead to an
    increase in soil organic matter (Figure 3c). Little research has been done utilizing cultivatable fungi in this matter.
    The added benefit of this innovative approach is the unique mushroom crop. Cultivation and sale of gourmet
    mushrooms is a growing niche in the sustainable foods market where Wine Cap mushrooms are valued at
    approximately $10/lb. in this region (with demand doubling annually since its introduction in 2012). Other regional
    growers are reporting similar demand.

    Biopesticide Potential:
    The Wine Cap fungus is an ideal candidate as a biopesticide because it is conditioned for vigorous outdoor
    cultivation, easy to grow, and provides a unique, edible mushroom crop. There is already anecdotal and
    preliminary evidence (unpublished data) of disease suppression (Mary Kozak, F&FP and Robert Voshell, UWV) of
    blight on tomatoes.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1) Test the ability of the wine cap fungus to speed up the process of increasing soil organic matter by adding organic material to soil surface.

    2) Test the ability of the wine cap fungus to decrease disease presence and severity in tomato plants.

    3) Evaluate the monetary value of adding a secondary mushroom crop to existing plant agriculture systems.

    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.