2004 was another year of change and rationalisation within the mushroom industry. Some old friends left the industry scene, as did a few bigger entities.
The year began in uncharacteristically glamorous fashion, with the then current Miss World beaming out of the pages of The Mushroom People, in a photograph from the Bord Glas and IMGA promotion of campaign from October 2003. and there was news too of University of Ulster research into a superbug antibiotic being derived from some exotic mushroom research.
David Seaby was finishing up on his mushroom conference reports with a look at some of the vital poster information from the conference in 2003. Also Minister for agriculture and food Joe Walsh TD was establishing the High Level Group to set out a vision for the Agriculture and Food Sector over the next decade.
We also covered the UK supermarket price war threat to farmers with the gloomy message that consumers would benefit but that frames would continue to lose out. Stalker was noting big loan reports in Monaghan Mushrooms the pre-amble in the merger with Carbury was long and drawn out. And Chloe McConville entered the scene now a big one-year-old girl! And the front page last year was taken by the new product from Laboratoire Meriel Prophyl, as the blurb goes "designed to decontaminate!"
February was quiet enough, as per usual - although there was a healthy report on one of the innovations of the 'naughties' in the mushroom industry i.e. the Axis systems mobile processing unit a.k.a. the "Picking Machine". Axis were runners up in the All Island Innovation Awards, and are continuing to work on their success. A small report noted that Dutch horticultural pre-eminence owes nothing to weather (lousy), Land (exiguous) or labour (expensive) and everything to continuous innovation!
There was news of dodgy goings on in regard to migrant farm workers, a constant problem throughout the UK and Ireland it seems. Mushroom Business was getting into its stride with its 3rd edition. Sylvan were celebrating four years of Blender Technology having processed its first batch of spawn on Feb. 14th 2000 the steely heart blends on. MIANI had submitted a development plan that was welcomed by the minister and was heartened by calls for parity of support mechanism north and south. Dermot O' Morchoe was providing valuable picking training up and down he country as well. And an international item referred to the 1 million workhands envisaged for the Vietnam mushroom industry. There was also coverage of the debate on the incipient amalgamation of An Bord Glas and Bord Bia. And Stalker is wondering how Bernadette Carey's daughter Jennifer is getting on in the movie industry! March was quiet too, lots of birthdays were noted and the odd goat story (how are the kids Gary?). DARDNI man Cathal Ellis helped to launch the Mushroom Challenge initiative from the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise. Completing the Challenge provides evidence of quality assurance audits of training and development in both Crop Production and Pest and disease management.
There was an early April Fool item by Professor Larc Czekiob about Radical mushroom innovations from Poland. Also carried (with kind permission of The Mushroom Journal) was an in-depth look at the Work Permits scheme operated in the UK by the Home Office it looked at types of permits, obtaining permits, the sectors based scheme and new developments. There was also an article on the growth of exotics in Scotland. Northern Ireland native David Armstrong is behind the soaring success story of Stirling Mushrooms, which was investing £1.5m in the new business venture, hoping to make Scotland the hub for European production of exotic fungi!
April, not the fairest month, saw Erwin Casing celebrating 10 years in the business. Roy Erwin is keeping up with the top Dutch casing producers, learning from their innovative methods and improving upon them. There was news of the incipient merger in the US of Sylvan and Snyder Associated Companies. An item on Tesco's records profits while at the same time UK MPs claiming that farmers were being starved of cash at the expense of supermarket directors and shareholders. The annual Bord Glas Food Quality awards for the Fresh Produce industry were reported on, with the mushroom winners well lauded. The JFM and Harte Peat presence at the North American Mushroom Conference in Florida was noted.
And the quote of the month came from ex-NASA man Donald Alger; " The way to make a small fortune in the mushroom industry is to start with a large fortune." Pre-EU Enlargement day in May 1st, Stalker noted that one of the most popular Polish dishes is Zrazy Zawijane - mushroom-stuffed beefsteak rolls in sour cream; it sounded scrumptious then and it still does now!
The industry months seemed to get quieter and quieter during the year, a sure sign that the contraction of the industry had taken firm hold. MIANI were making progress in May on their Industry Development Plan modernisation, transparency and market development were the watchwords. Fancom were promoting their new 765s climate control computer before the big showcase mushroom days in Holland.
Photographs from the Sylvan Farm walks in April were carried. There was news on transgenic vegetables we surely do live in a sci-fi era. The Irish Times top 1000 companies had a few mushroom firms ranking in it. And we learned that if you can't afford real caviar then the Russian method for mock caviar involves the Portobello 'shroom.
June was a newsier month with the Champignodagen 2004 event hosting up to 3500 visitors to the exhibition. There was at least one full bus of growers from Ireland. There are obviously growers in Ireland who are willing to invest, but the view on the continent is probably that a lot of growers in Ireland do not see a fruitful future in the mushroom industry per se. As for the rest of the exhibition, it was considered by many to be a fabulous showpiece for the industry Europe-wide, however there was a suspicion that there was fewer new products on show at the exhibition this time around, and effectively, that highlighted the fact that the industry is in contracting mode. There were technical reports produced from the Sylvan farm walks always an excellent source of information for growers on the latest methodologies to use to improve yields. IN the US the Sylvan Inc Merger was approved on June 9th. Also the merger between Monaghan Mushroom and Carbury was confirmed on June 2nd, creating the new single entity Monaghan.
Amycel's Martin Duffy wrote an article on bacterial blotch for the magazine, as usual it was highly informative and well written, and as it turned out Martin's last article for The Mushroom People. Martin is sorely missed by many within the industry and it saddened many that his departure was so abrupt. Martin also provided the word of the month anastomosis. Stalker, not being a scientist, nor necessarily scientifically literate, was stumped by the word. The following are some definitions from Google: Fusion of somatic hyphae; a communication, direct or indirect; a joining together; the place at which two structures are joined; a natural or surgical joining of parts or branches of tubular structures so as to make or become continuous.
There were Ulster Final tickets up for grabs from the ever-generous Sylvan Ireland. Reuters news agency reported a strange case of mushroom related taxonomic difficulty. Mycologists in the Republic of Congo have been left clueless by the appearance of a bizarre giant three-tiered mushroom which measures a metre across and was found in the tropical forests of the Republic of Congo. Reen Man Eamonn Long, featured on the BBC TV Programme Brassed Off that aired on June 1st. Eamonn and his family were having some slight probs with their TXTNG & MOB SRVIS. Hopefully that has all been resolved by now, but Stalker doubts it.
July opened with all change in Bord statuses - The new look Bord Bia had subsumed the horticultural body Bord Glas and had also acquired a new chief executive, Aidan Cotter. Minister for Agriculture Mr Walsh maintained that the horticulture sector would be better served by an amalgamated body, which " could achieve the synergies necessary to best promote and market both food and horticulture at home and abroad." Enniscorthy in Co. Wexford is the location of the head office of the Food Board.
There were more reports on the previous month's mushroom days in Holland and an article on mushroom growers putting science into practice by mushroom development advisor Cathal Ellis. There was the first mention of the new Natural Gold supplement being developed by IPP and a piece on Monterey Mushrooms Watsonville farm operation. The Cpoint website revamp was highlighted and some Spanish interest being shown down at Tandragee. Another monster mushroom was featured this time found in Scotland, and it was a whopper.
The usually quiet month of August remained so, and The Mushroom People was mostly taken up with a superbly summarised account (thanks to some synoptic Aussie input) of the Taskforce report that had been delivered to Minister of State Noel Treacy TD the month before. The digested read was easier to take in than the full report although the full report was well linked to from themushroompeople.com website The Mushroom Task Force Report (summary). Other items included the weird music and mushrooms article on Vaclav Halek who has composed 2,000 melodies which he says are inspired by mushrooms; and the report on the telephone mast furore in Navan, but the less said about that the better as it raises too many hackles all round! There were reports on Atlantic Mushrooms being bought over and signs of trouble at the McGeary Operation with personnel leaving.
David Seaby was back in top form in September with an article on the problems of 'high' temperatures in summer. There was a MIANI push on a mushroom advertising initiative hoping to halt the decline in consumption. A warning emanating from the Food Authority BfR in Germany about Shiitake mushrooms wasn't helpful for the exotic producers in Europe. Claremorris citizen John Whittle was profiled in a piece from The Mayo News one reader pointed out the dig at the denizens of Meath contained in the article. And there were notes on the Madonna gig in the summer, holidays in Thailand, babies born in the McKenna clan (one boy) and the Gildernew clan (and one girl!), and the return of Sylvan rep Eilish McConville, back on the road again.
There was also an article on medical researchers exploring the possibilities of mushrooms acting as anti-cancer agents, especially the Reishi and Shiitake varieties. Martin Duffy also bid farewell to all his friends in the industry with a letter to the editor ending: " In summary, may all your compost yield 700 lbs per tonne (and much more if phase 3) and may all your mushrooms be premium class."
October saw the UFU open mushroom meeting, a well-attended affair addressing the many concerns within the local Northern Ireland scene. MIANI were pushing the idea of a 6m promotional campaign to help increase demand for the mushroom over a 2 year period. There was a report from Mairead Kilpatrick on the industry gathering for a science update with special attention paid to the work on Near Infrared Spectroscopy. There was an article detailing points that had arisen on the recent visit by Henk Van Gerwen organized for Brown growers - the article detailed salient information on spawn run, preparation for casing, casing, breaking and airing, watering and harvesting/picking. A Scottish acquisition by McGeary's was reported on and raised a few eyebrows. US stats for 2003-04 showed crop levels at 831m lbs with a value totalling at $852m. A mysterious brain fever emerged in Japan linked to the oyster mushroom, known as sugi-hiratake; later officially designated Pleurocybella porrigens a.k.a. angel's wing.
Amycel's personnel change was noted with Kieran Smyth and Eilín Connolly now fronting the Irish operation. Chiquita Mushrooms down under were being fitted out by Fancom equipment shipped by JFM from Ireland. A harrowing excerpt from an article in Mushroom Business touched on the full horror of war being experienced by Iraqi families. And Europe's largest mushroom was discovered in Switzerland spanning 86 acres, a whopper by anyone's standards.
With the year winding down the November issue carried a detailed piece on the Natural Gold mushroom nutrient from IPP. The MGA conference in Stratford upon Avon was covered a comprehensive conference it was too by all accounts. The main theme in GB echoed Irish concerns, but attendees were noted to be in good humour no matter the problems that surround the industry. The closure of the Money Mushrooms operation s in the USA signalled that travails in the mushroom industry are a global not local phenomenon. The sixth Mexican mushroom conference seemed to be a great success.
Researchers at Warwick HRI revealed a novel mushroom growing medium that simultaneously tackles two environmental problems: disposal of 'difficult' waste material from coalmines, and preservation of the world's peat resources. Professor Ralph Noble at Warwick HRI developed a product that uses very fine coal tailings waste hard to dispose of because it is unstable in landfill sites to replace around 30% of the heavy black peat in the casings used in mushroom cultivation.
The product was featured at the 2004 year Chelsea Flower Show, where Warwick HRI contributed its expertise to the British Mycological Society's display helping it to win a gold medal at the prestigious event. Meanwhile Harte Peat extended the casing pilot programme of the new "Generation II" Casing Soils, designed specifically for Dutch Shelving growers, the company are continuing with research and development on this product with a view to developing a robust casing soil that handles well in casing machines while retaining the water absorption, holding and re-wetting characteristics of the new blend.
Also noted was the imminent closure of the McGeary Compost yard, a blow to all the employees at the Armagh Road company. And finally in December a new Filling and casing machine was delivered and set up in Tipperary. New babies were welcomed, engagements noted and first class degrees applauded. Brendan Smith TD the latest minister of State at the Department of agriculture and Food called for renewed vigour in implementing the Mushroom Task Force recommendations. There was also some horsey delight at the victory for Direct Access in Ayr. A comprehensive report on the shenanigans going on in the UK re magic mushroom supply! Quite a trip indeed. Also a report on the UMKC facility that houses 72,000 strains of fungus.
All in all, the year zipped by mighty quick, and with all the gloomy news throughout the year of contraction and consolidation, and closures, and people coming and going within the industry with the tsunami calamity that engulfed South East Asia, the fragility of life on Earth puts a lot of our quotidian worries into perspective. May we all have a prosperous and uplifting 2005.