Growing the Specialty Mushroom Industry in the Northeast

Project Overview

LNE19-376
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $98,796.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2021
Grant Recipient: Fungi Ally, LLC
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:

Information Products

Commodities

  • Miscellaneous: mushrooms

Practices

  • Crop Production: agroforestry, crop improvement and selection, forest farming, low tunnels
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, networking, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, business planning
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, urban agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem and justification:
    In a previous USDA-SARE-sponsored national survey of shiitake growers, 89% of respondents indicated that demand consistently exceeded supply in their region. A 2015 Chatham University study interviewed 23 Northeastern buyers who reported needing 7,075 pounds of shiitake annually to fulfill customer demand; only 2,060 pounds (29% of demand) of locally-produced shiitakes were available for purchase. Despite this demand, only 229 farmers reported growing specialty mushrooms, and both the number of growers and the production rates have declined over the past three seasons. United States per capita consumption of all mushroom species was only 2.7 pounds in 1978 but by 2014 averaged 4 pounds per capita. The market for mushroom consumption has steadily increased over the past decades and is projected to continue to grow. Farmers are unable to access this market because of a lack of training, resources, and experts to consult.

    Small-diversified vegetable/livestock farms, beginning farms, and urban farms are prime candidates for specialty mushroom cultivation. Over 75% of farmers who participated in a survey conducted by the project team responded that they would benefit from participating in a project gathering data on methods of mushroom production.

    Solution and approach:
    In order to propel a new generation of specialty mushroom growers, this grant will compile data on specialty mushroom production. We will support a cohort of start-up growers to model a range of commercial operations in exchange for data on start-up costs, labor, and other key considerations. The comparative data from various scenarios will be compiled and form the basis of outreach materials and enterprise budgets. We will focus efforts on three systems of cultivation: Oyster mushroom cultivation on straw. Specialty mushroom production on ready-to-fruit blocks indoors. Specialty mushroom production on ready-to-fruit blocks outdoors. After developing a guidebook and video resources, project educators will engage 300 growers in two-hour workshops. A subset of interested growers will attend follow-up online sessions. These attendees can apply for ongoing mentoring as they develop and implement a business plan. Ten growers will be accepted for intensive support from the project team in exchange for keeping track of labor and economic data while starting and operating their enterprise. Growers will offer a range of scenarios that will be described in case studies and enterprise budgets, which will be published along with a finalized cultivation manual. All materials will be available indefinitely online.

    Performance target:
    Of the 300 farmers that attend in person training, 100 attend a 3 week webinar series to learn methods of cultivating specialty mushrooms. 30 of those apply to receive assistance growing 30 pounds of mushrooms per week. 10 produce and sell 9,000 pounds over 30 weeks, generating $108,000.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Of the 300 farmers that attend in person training, 100 attend a 3 week webinar series to learn methods of cultivating specialty mushrooms. 30 of those apply to receive assistance growing 30 pounds of mushrooms per week. 10 produce and sell 9,000 pounds over 30 weeks, generating $108,000.

    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.