Market assessment for Northeast forest-grown mushrooms
Forest-grown shiitakes have high value for growers but require years of intensive management to reach full production and access to reliable markets. Buyers, particularly restaurants and food co-ops, need a larger, more reliable supply which single growers have not yet been able to produce or guarantee. In the 2013 NESARE research report (LNE10-298), 89% of participating growers indicated that demand consistently exceeds supply in their region. Growers expressed a need to connect with other growers and hope to aggregate supplies of available shiitakes, and requested this market assessment to determine the appropriate mix of marketing, aggregation and distribution channels that will best advance their financial success.
Shiitakes can provide a profitable method of diversifying farm income by utilizing low-value forestry by-products while creating opportunities for timber stand improvement. Once the freshly cut hardwood logs are inoculated, shiitake logs continue to fruit biannually for 4-5 years. Log-grown shiitakes enjoy strong demand and are higher in quality and value than mass-produced indoor-grown shiitakes.
In 2014, 57 forest grown shiitake producers in the Northeast responded to our market assessment. Fifty-one (89.5%) of these farms are currently marketing shiitakes, with a projected harvest from 17,968 inoculated bolts in 2014. With two harvests per season, past research showed that with well managed laying yards, growers can expect to harvest an average of up to one pound per bolt per season or higher. At an average of $16/pound retail value, that represents $287,488 or an average of $5,637 per grower.
Together, with the remaining 6 responding farms moving into commercial marketing, these 57 growers are projecting to harvest forest frown shiitakes from 59,575 bolts by 2018. Responses from the assessment showed that growers expect to receive around $11 per pound as a wholesale price. With an anticipated average wholesale value of $11/pound, this represents potential farm income totaling up to $655,325 by 2018 from those participating in this current NESARE Marketing Assessment. Forty-seven growers (82%) indicated that they were very or quite interested in developing a NE Forest Grown Mushroom Network.
During the second half of this market assessment the Core team will hold regional workshops/focus groups to identify a proposed communication structure, explore marketing plan, and targeted aggregation sites for their consideration. Involved farmers will continue to participate in the overall market assessment to determine grower interest in collectively marketing their mushrooms through an agro-forestry aggregation and distribution network.
The focus for the market assessment combines research to identify levels of supply and inventory for forest grown shiitakes; coupled with pinpointing sales opportunities in the NE regional marketplaces.
- Market: Preliminary research found a high demand for forest-grown shiitakes, sold at $16-$18/lb. through retail/direct sale markets, and $10-$12/lb. in wholesale quantities, throughout the Northeast. Some of the farm advisers who are established growers said they could easily have six to eight times the number of accounts if marketing relationships and a steady supply of shiitakes were established. The extent of this additional demand was not well known, and has become our secondary focus of our market research.
- The market assessment first targeted shiitake growers across the Northeast through Qualtrics, an on-line market assessment. 57 established and beginning forest grown shiitake producers responded to the detailed assessment. These growers planned to harvest from 17,968 shiitake logs in 2014 and projected to have 59,575 logs ready for harvest by 2018.
- Five growers, including the 4 project farmer advisers, have formed a Core group who together, over the next 6 months, will evaluate the current and projected market demand, and examine alternatives available for aggregation, storage, and distribution in the various regiional hubs to be identified.
- The next phase of the market assessment, to be completed during January, 2015 will target 40 potential buyers identified by farmer participants, with the expectation that at least 50% will respond providing data about future demand, pricing and targets locations for potential aggregations hubs in the Northeast.
- This Core group will continue to solicit feedback from the broader network of respondents and will hold workshops in early 2015 to identify a proposed marketing plan and targeted aggregation sites for their consideration. These workshops, held in various locations in the Northeast, will explore the level of interest in “scaling up” to establish regional marketing hubs. These workshops will emphasize key practices to consider in the transition to 500-log or larger operations, discuss strategies to increase production, sales and quality of products, as well as possible ways to collaboratively market, aggregate and distribute forest grown shiitakes and related agro-forestry products.
March 1, 2014 Farm advisers contacted and reconfirmed their involvement and interest.
March 15, 2014 Conference call completed with farm advisers to discuss implementation plans for NESARE Partnership grant & complete plans to host SE PA initial Shiitake workshop
April 15, 2014 Initial shiitake inoculation workshop held in SE PA in conjunction with Penn StateCo-op Extension. Trial market assessments developed with input from 25 participants
May 9, 2014 ONE14-214 contract approved and signed by Chatham University administration.
May 30, 2014 Conference call: Draft Market assessment results reviewed with farmer advisers
June 15, 2014 Signed contract received by Chatham University from NESARE, and expenditure of funds approved
July 30, 2014 Market assessment survey final draft edited with input from Farm Advisers
Aug 31, 2014 Graduate Assistant research work plan and updated timeline developed
Sept 15, 2014 Farm advisors complete market assessment, results incorporated in final version
Sept 30, 2014 Members of NE mushroom listserve receive advance notice of assessment. Conference call with farm advisers: Market assessment finalized for distribution
Oct 30, 2014 57 Mushroom Shiitake growers respond to market assessment and identify their current and 5 year production targets through 2018. 82% indicate interest in developing NE FGM Network
Nov 1, 2014 Core team conference call with Farm Advisers: to discuss data collected and summarize results of Market Assessment. Developed plan for Customer assessment
Nov 30, 2014 First draft of Consumer/ Customer assessment developed
Dec 30, 2014 Final version of Customer assessment completed and ready for distribution
Dec 31, 2014 Annual Partnership Grant report submitted to NESARE
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Data gathered from 57 forest grown shiitake growers/farmers from across Northeast USA shows wide ranging interest in forest grown shiitakes. Results indicated that direct retail sales occurred primarily through farmers markets, regional coops, and restaurants. Retail prices ranged quite broadly because of the diversity of markets. Those in extremely rural markets sometimes were only able to charge $8 per pound. Others, with more established urban markets, are often able to charge as much as $18 per pound.
Assessments from growers show that they projected growth from 17,968 bolts ready for harvest in 2014 to an estimated 59,575 bolts inoculated to produce forest grown shiitakes by 2018. With an over 300% potential increase in production, it will become increasing important to sustain the income form retail and wholesale prices being receive by growers. By working together in developing regional aggregation and distribution “hubs”, the network expects to develop a structure that maintains the income values for grower, and reduces expense through collective purchasing.
82% of the cooperating growers were very or quite interested in developing a NE Forest Grown Shiitake Mushroom Network. 44 (77%) of the growers indicated that they would be interested in selling their extra shiitake products (fresh and dried) through such a Network. 14 (30%) of growers were interested in buying extra shiitakes for their existing markets. Obviously, no conclusion can be drawn until we gather information on current and future customer demand, which will occur during the next phase of this marketing assessment.
Philo Woodland Farm
517 White Birch Lane
Charlotte, VT 05445
Office Phone: 8024253758
New England Wild Edibles
65 Foundry Village Rd.
Colrain, MA 01340
Office Phone: 4136245188
Hawk Meadow Farm
5066 Mott Evans Road
Trumansburg, NY 14886
Office Phone: 6073873424