Having taken a break from all news and print media over the Christmas and New Year break, it was disheartening to come back to new, even scarier oil price predictions - "Oil to reach $200 a barrel by 2010." Phew, we've only just entered a new year - let's get over the jags and spikes of 2007 first. With that in mind the review of 2007 is one that encompasses ups and downs, talk of recession and gloomy predictions for the mushroom industry both locally, nationally, for the UK , Europe and worldwide! But sure there was much talk of the same in 2006, and here we are 2 years from 2010, the industry heartbeat still beating, however constrictedly. So what have we learnt in 2007...
January began with the Bord Bia annual report, which headlined that food exports from Ireland had hit over Euro8 billion - not a trifling sum!
Although the report showed that Horticultural sector was down by 10% at Euro204 million, which Chief exec Aidan Cotter put down to," mostly a result of a decline in mushroom imports to the British markets, where a number of factors including falling demand, the exchange rate and increased competition had led to the drop. Furthermore, market penetration of the UK mushroom market fell to 1.6pc "Over the last year, the trading environment on the domestic market would appear to have deteriorated compared with export markets", according to Mr Cotter. He said that the agriculture and food industry remained Ireland's largest indigenous sector, providing total employment to approximately 155,000. It accounted for more than half of Ireland's indigenous exports and represented almost a 10th of the economy. Mr Cotter added that total turnover of Irish food and drink in 2006 was estimated at around Euro20 billion, with relatively low import content.
There was an appeal on behalf of The Romanian Challenge Appeal by Simon O`Connor who is working out there with the charity. The work in Romania has been focused on helping de-institutionalise both children and adults who were housed in the now infamous orphanages of Ceausescu's regime. Simon was appealing for help with any type of growing equipment, tunnels etc, to help with the newly proposed mushroom venture that the charity was working on. We still hope to bring an update on the mushroom growing venture out in Siret. Anyone with any helpful suggestions can call the office in Romania on tel: 0040 230 281331 or email Simon at:firstname.lastname@example.org
Also in the first month of 2007, there was a commitment by the Health & Safety Authority (HSA) to carry out at least 100 inspections of mushroom farms during 2007, which was welcomed by SIPTU's Regional Secretary, Mike Jennings. The language was tough and uncompromising: "Exploitation of workers in some sections of the mushroom industry is extreme," said Mr. Jennings, "and it's not just about low wages and long working hours - it's about condemning employees to working conditions where their physical health is being threatened, and this is much more worrying." Stalker noted the use of MWL in the SIPTU press release.
"There is an occupational disease known as 'mushroom workers' lung' which is caused by inhaling mushroom spores. This disease can cause permanent lung damage if not treated. Yet we are aware that in many employments no breathing apparatus is provided to pickers.
As Stalker noted at the time: "Hopefully this condition will not become so widespread and problematic that it generates ever more negative associations for the mushroom industry. Prevention in this case is the cure."
There was news of Chronos Richardson, providing help with installing second-hand equipment. As the company blurb put it: "Chronos Richardson itself offers cost-effective upgrade / refurbishment solutions, which can be implemented with minimum impact on existing operations whilst modernising a packing plant."
There were notes on Biomass boilers that were making in-roads on mushroom farms locally; talk of Kiwis calling, recruitment to New Zealand for mushroom growers being mooted. Quote of the month from Democrat Senator Barbara Mikulski: "Just because a scientist can manufacture food in the laboratory, should Americans be required to eat it?" And note of the high winds that battered Ireland in Jan. 07, with gusts reaching up to 150 km/h, compared with this year's January gusts hitting 174 km/h - just goes to show that things are getting more extreme meteorologically speaking.
One Aussie connection was featured too - the case of the mushroom farm in South Boambee, on the mid north coast of New South Wales, where the proprietor Bronwyn Finch described how the mushroom casing used comes from peat moss from Ireland and Holland. It sure is a small world.
Moving into February there were headlines of "Mushroom Companies in Turmoil" in GB, while at the same time there was "Mega Mushroom Deal" for local company K.Hughes Ltd. The turmoil was highlighted in a financial report from Plimsoll Publishing, who did a portfolio analysis indicating that 29% of UK mushroom companies were now in financial danger with 17 per cent of firms "blatantly selling at a loss". The guts of the report was thus: "A number of driving forces seem to be affecting the industry at the same time, forcing current owners to consider their future involvement in the market," the report found. Plimsoll's study revealed that a third of mushroom-company directors are more than 60-years old and that for 24 companies, succession is an issue. For almost half of the companies in the sector, sales are not keeping pace with inflation and average sales growth across the industry is negative: -2.4 per cent. Against this background, a handful of companies are prospering and 27 have increased profitability in the last year. There are also 37 companies new to the industry having been established in the past 10 years. And two of these already have sales exceeding GBP5 million.
Meanwhile elsewhere Tenon Recovery were involved with the directors of Heveco, trying to sort out the failure of the Sussex based firm. Carl Jackson the head of Tenon Recovery said: "We took every step to stabilise the business following the administration and negotiated with key customers and suppliers in an effort to achieve a trade sale. The outcome has helped to secure the future of mushroom production at Thakeham." The brighter news at Hughes Mushrooms was a multi-million pound deal with supermarket giant Sainsbury's. The deal was secured after the retailer decided to source more mushrooms from farmers in both Northern Ireland and the Republic for its stores in the province and across the rest of the UK. The volume of mushrooms sourced from Northern Ireland producers was to increase by 50% in the subsequent 12 months, according to Sainsbury's. And suppliers from the south were to provide 42% more mushrooms over the same period. Monaghan were not idling either, they managed to secure a GBP20m contract with the retailing giant! A good month all round for the local industry in Ulster counties.
A feature article looked at the work of Dillon Design. The successful partnership of Tommy Dillon with Limbraco was highlighted as was the methodical way in which Tommy takes to machinery, making sure that customers get the complete Dillon treatment on their machinery - knowing that Tommy will stand over all the work done. His top tip - don't wait for your machinery to break down, get it serviced as early as possible. The science in February was brought to us by Paul Baxter via Queen's University Belfast and AFBI, Loughgall. In the article entitled "MAXIMISING CASING POTENTIAL" the author described the results of research that will provide a rapid analysis tool for mushroom casing to enable suppliers and growers to maximise casing potential. The work was funded by Teagasc and the Department of Agriculture & Food, STIMULUS fund.
In the notes that month, there was obvious cheer at the news flowing from the Sainbury's deal, tempered with some glumness on reports of another phase II compost unit shutting its doors. Talk of an organic produce scam where some old mushrooms turning brown were re tagged as organic, and sold like hot cakes. The health boosting qualities of the humble button 'shroom were being touted in the national media - the powerful antioxidant L-Ergothioneine being the holy grail. Mushrooms were also found to be a good source if Lovastatin, good for cholesterol levels, and B vitamins which are important during pregnancy. A good month for the new Superfood on the block then! One other wee note that kept resurfacing in the international news feeds over the year was the brouhaha surrounding Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and funding for a mushroom farm in the land of Galilee. Not a story of biblical proportions, but certainly of biblical locations!
Advancing fair into March, there was news of the upcoming 49th annual mushroom industry conference at Penn State University. Schedules and info for the upcoming event in June were finalised. A feature article on the fight against Tesco dominance on the high street featured an in-depth look at and review of the book Tescopoly by Andrew Simms. In the book he draws parallels between chain stores and invasive species, compares our consumerist society to a diet of junk food, and describes unsustainable lifestyles in the west as being akin to badly parked cars in the supermarket taking up too much space to the detriment of people in the developing world.
Carl Bozicek cast his beady eye over the mushroom world in one of his offbeat but always informative articles. From super hens to dodgy straw, Carl's piece sure did catch the eye. Note was made of the super car smash too that happened in March - the newly delivered Bugatti Veyron that was totalled by the owners brother. US plans to mass produce the truffle was featured, and news of an R&D boost in Vietnam also proved notable. Campbell Soup Company announced plans to sell it's Australian fresh mushroom operation to Chiquita Brands, and a judge in South Wales blocked planned home building projects in order to protect rare fungi, proving that ecological awareness is penetrating the higher echelons of the judicial arm of the state - thanks to SSSI orders.
Stalker noted some meetings of minds, with SIPTU and the PO's in the South having several powwows to thrash out some agreement on employment regulations in the mushroom sector. More news of growers leaving the industry filtered through, with prices for produce being the main bugbear of disgruntled growers. There was news also of births (Jack Stephen McKenna) and marriages ( Andrew McArdle to Linda) and word of academic researches ongoing into the industry; an academic from Sussex University doing some research into migrant workers in the Irish industry - a rich seam for research by all accounts.
JF McKenna Ltd had bought in the latest in jumbo polythene roll handling machinery and equipment required to supply customised poly-covers to horticultural customers all over the country. Stalker noted that with the dire climate predictions of temperature rises of up to 6C, all life on Earth would cease to exist, except for fungi - "There may be no more people, nor no more The Mushroom People, but there'll still be mushrooms." In a note entitled "Say Nowt" Stalker seemed to voice the opinion of the notional grower's wife: "the market demand for the fresh mushroom produce is perkier, slightly up due to various reasons. But does this slight spike in demand translate into better prices for the grower? Growers are pretty sure that they're being squeezed at all times, even when prices seem to be good!
On the ground, the grower's wife might say "it's the growers' fault, none of them ever talk to each other, to let each other know what prices they're getting for their produce."
The, by now, annual early April fool in the march edition was easily spotted this year. It wasn't the boyo in the Viking get-up, a heavily disguised Tommy Dillon.
A real head turner!
It wasn't the GBP500m egg scam. It was the priapic tale "Blue is the Colour" about the enhancing qualities of the fictional Canadian growers produce. How many did it fool, one wonders?
Unfoolish April arrived with awards for J.F. McKenna in the Translink Ulster in bloom competition. And there was a top food quality award for Leslie Codd: "When Leslie Codd went into growing mushrooms in Baltinglass after leaving school, little did he realise that his farm enterprise would go on to become not only the largest mushroom supplier in the republic, but a top award winner. His company Codd Mushrooms has just scooped the top accolade for food quality in its category the winner of the Bord Bia Best Mushroom Grower Award at a special presentation ceremony in Citywest, Dublin."
"We have a good team. At the moment the company is employing 52 staff. The majority of these are Eastern European. We are also the largest supplier of mushrooms to the Irish market. This award is a great achievement for us. It's an All-Ireland award and it is highly sought after."
Looking to the future, Leslie said that down the line he hopes to expand the business further. However, he says this is not on the cards for the immediate future. Well done again to Leslie.
On a sourer note there was news of Euro113,000 for exploited mushroom pickers. The story was the on-gong saga concerning pickers - five from Latvia, two from Ukraine and one from Belorussia - who had been working for Lalor Mushrooms in County Laois. According to a spokesman for a Dublin solicitors firm, Greg O'Neill, which represented the workers, they were working up to 70 hours a week and being paid by the weight of mushrooms picked, "which worked out at Euro3.50 an hour". The Irish national minimum wage was at that time Euro8.30 per hour.
In the aftermath of the case, Trade and Enterprise Minister Micheal Martin announced an industry investigation by labour inspectors to tackle all such exploitation, and that inquiry was said to be continuing.
There was news of a death on a Canadian mushroom farm - the employee got trapped in a piece of machinery. Even though the death seems far away from the Irish industry, the lessons to be learnt apply the world over. Any farm with conveyor belts faces the same kind of risks.
The page 2 report focussed on a remarkable father-and-son research project which revealed how rising temperatures are affecting fungi in southern England.fungus enthusiast Edward Gange amassed 52,000 sightings of mushroom and toadstools during walks around Salisbury over a 50-year period. Analysis by his son Alan, published in the journal Science, shows some fungi have started to fruit twice a year. There were clear scientific grounds to indicate that our climate has begun to radically shift. Mushrooms are like frogs - early indicators of environmental evolution.
The Greenery UK launched The Mushroom Guide to help retailers choose the best products from its extensive range of mushrooms. Available in Dutch, German, English and French, The Mushroom Guide is presented in a handy folder that contains all the information needed about The Greenery's entire assortment of mushrooms including its availability and characteristics.
The main body of the April edition contained the first in a series of articles by IRCHSS Scholar Francisco Arqueros entitled: The uneven process of appropriation by industry of basic mushroom inputs (I): mushroom spawn. Although it was quite a meaty chunk of reading, the article was a handy synopsis of developments in the world of mushroom spawn, from the genesis of the industry in France to present day. The article generated some responses from the Spawn world, which the author appreciated - anything that makes the central thesis as accurate as possible can only be to the good.
Note worthies that month included talk of the Ag-Biotech show which is expected to pull in 1,000 delegates and is being held this year in Ireland for the very first time; the Lurpak advertising on telly that really pushed the profile of the fresh mushroom; Stalker noted the new formatting for the Mushroom Business magazine - a handy A4 size - quite familiar really to TMP readers.
Also, a study at the horticultural research arm Warwick HRI revealed that recycled paper-based compost can help to fight plant disease. Dr Ralph Noble's research showed that replacing around 20% of the volume of soil or peat by compost gave major disease control benefits, the magazine reports. We learned that Piers Morgan, one time editor of the Daily Mirror, reckoned the worst job he'd ever done was bagging mushroom compost. Shovelling other horseshit in the national press was simple in comparison. Profits were up at Donegal Creameries; new green labelling was being mooted for Tesco food products. And Tesco was also making headlines in the tabloid press for putting "magic" stickers on their fresh mushroom produce. Sure they are magic! And quote for the month "Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it." Still pretty sound advice!
May was a month of diverse stories from around the world. The election of Nicholas Sarkozy to the French presidency was presaged with ominous warnings about less support for the CAP by Sarko. Under Chirac France had a strong pro-CAP stance. Under Sarko the policy was going to be a bit more comme ci comme ca. The new president has been entertaining all the same with his marital shenanigans and playboy-ish image. News from down under was that the demand for exotic mushrooms was on the rise and a study was being undertakenby the University of Western Sydney into the medicinal properties of the ganoderma lucidum.
A novel idea was reported on; an adaptive re-use project employing mycology (or myco-remediation) to convert condemned wooden buildings into compost, and the building site into a garden plot. No demolition necessary. Bizarre, bonkers even, but ingenious too if it works! and another mad-cap idea using mushrooms was the wall insulation invention. As the report put it "bio-economy at work: bio-composites for home insulation made from mushrooms and starch." And you thought, dear reader, that fungi were simply for the eating.
Mushroom production in Iran was reported on. The much benighted country has a flourishing mushroom industry and the potential for investment there remains strong. A report from the US on the situation in Iraq pin-pointed commercial mushroom production as potentially The Next Big Thing! As the current US president is out-going , this will hopefully alleviate matters in relation to Iran at least and let's hope 2008 brings more stability and peace to that region as a whole.
A pre-historic mystery organism turned out to be a "humongous fungus". The enigma known as Prototaxites, which stood in branchless, tree-like trunks up to more than 20 feet tall and a yard wide, lived worldwide from roughly 420 million to 350 million years ago. The giant was the largest-known organism of its day, living in a time when wingless insects, millipedes, worms and other creepy-crawlies dominated, as backboned animals had not yet evolved out of the oceans.
In local news - an Ulster mushroom farmer faced paying out hundreds of thousands after a compensation cheque he signed to pay off unfairly sacked foreign workers bounced. The cheque he handed over to pay off a dozen of his former staff - to settle a record-breaking legal action - was refused by the bank when union officials tried to cash it. The farmer was set to be forced to pay the full compensation award made against him by a Dublin tribunal - more than Euro330,000.
Monterey Mushrooms reached an agreement on a tentative 5 year contract with the United Farm Workers. The company is the largest grower/shipper and marketer of fresh mushrooms in the USA.
In notes, there were worries about the price of compost going on a hike, with Euro20 surcharges being added in some places. It was all down to the straw shortages. One grower in Monaghan was seeing a rosier outlook than most; there was word on a research project from the Dundalk Institute of Technology was mooted, hoping to look into the generation of ethanol from SMC; the first mention of a new handbook for growers appeared and there was some worrying anecdotal evidence of some of the best mushroom farms in the country closing up. A diverse month all in all.
In June Brent Crude was trading at the $72 mark - that was worrying people for the summer months - talk of $100 a barrel seemed fanciful, or scaremongering. The price of petrol was hovering around the 97p mark on average. Many factors were mooted for the surging oil prices, weather, supply worries, demand in China and India. It seems like a long way now back to the lows of the summer!
Thankfully Aidan Ryan, former chairman of the Irish Mushroom Growers Association was predicting a rise in the price for Irish mushrooms, and for sure prices did rise. But then again the price of everything has been rising. "Despite additional costs, plus higher fuel and transport charges, Irish growers' prices in the UK have not increased in the past decade. We've kept going through increased yields and productivity, but over the past decade, the number of Irish growers has fallen from 570 to fewer than 100."
Ryan, who now speaks for the Dewfresh mushroom producers' organisation in County Meath, predicted that the current number will be halved unless action is taken - and soon. He warned that if a price agreement cannot be reached with UK retailers, "we will all be importing our mushrooms from Poland in a few years from now."
Echoing Ryan's prediction for the South in the North Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson warned that the mushroom industry in Northern Ireland was going to disappear unless urgent action was taken to secure a long-term future for the once flourishing industry. Mr Nicholson led representatives from the mushroom sector in Northern Ireland to meet with the agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew , where the Minister heard about the serious pressures facing the industry. He said: "I have been shown startling statistics by those in the industry, which prove that in 5 years the industry has declined at an alarming rate. In the past 5 years there has been an 80% drop in the production of mushroom compost in Northern Ireland meaning less mushroom producers, less output and job losses. All of which has a devastating knock on effect on the rest of the economy. In 2002 there were 226 mushroom producers in Northern Ireland whereas now there are only around 40. Quite clearly something should have been done earlier to address the demise of this once flourishing industry but now it is on the agenda and I hope the Minister will stick to her word and look at ways of securing a future for our mushroom industry."
The Mushroom Bureau in the UK launched a booklet to help consumer healthy eating. Entitled "Mushrooms - the Magic Ingredient for Summer" the 20 page booklet was offered free. Its aim was to educate especially a younger demographic about the taste, health and versatility of the cultivated mushroom. Andrew Middlebrook, chairman of the Mushroom Bureau said; "we are hopeful that this activity and other marketing initiatives will see sales of mushrooms increase." Interestingly, the booklet followed the scrutiny that Tesco felt from the tabloids over labelling mushrooms with magic stickers. Happily it seemed there was no more fuss injected by the pesky tabloids during the silly season.
There was the play Mushroom that was making a debut in Strabane - a tale of immigration, hardship, love and loss - it was reportedly well received by audiences throughout the country. There was a report on another death on a mushroom farm in North America, this time in Pennsylvania. The mushroom worker was electrocuted after touching a live wire on a lighting fixture! Once again the stark message hits home, that safety must be paramount on premises.
We got our first glimpse of the Mushroom Pest Disease and Control Handbook cover. Hopefully the Fletcher and Gaze tome will be reviewed in the February 2008 edition. A report on the oldest known mushroom found caused a wee bit of consternation, being 250 million years younger than the Prototaxites (humongous fungus) which had been reported on a month earlier. In this case an Oregon scientist and a Kentucky nurse were reported to have found the oldest known mushroom, entombed in a 100-million-year-old piece of amber from Burma. A closer examination of the nine-hundredths-inch-long mushroom cap revealed that it had been infected by an ancient parasite, which a second parasite was feeding on. For sure though, that still is one old mushroom! Making the notes in June - there was an incentive of 10% for the Gaze and Fletcher tome via The Mushroom People; a report on a local company exporting projects to the Black Sea region; there was a huge or was that Hughes wedding on the 7th of the 7th, 07; car mayhem on a former mushroom farm in Bristol and a wee note on what mycoplasms actually are and get up to - myconasties indeed.
July began with an optimistic article from FreshInfo.com entitled "Magic Returns to Mushroom Sector", Some might have balked at the title, and wondered was it ace US basketball player Magic Johnson getting involved again with the industry? But no, it was higher retail prices that was leading the articles Potteresque theme. Martin Roe had joined Chronos Richardson as the new regional sales manager and a Tornado had wreaked havoc on a mushroom farm in Tibberton. The freakish summer weather was certainly a talking point last year. The main body of the magazine was taken up with the second instalment of Francisco Arqueros's thesis forming article on mushroom compost. Once again a bit of light summer reading for those who were interested!
In the notes, Padraig Harrington's spectacular golf triumph at the British Open got a mention, as did news of another star in the mushroom world moving on to pastures greener elsewhere - none other than JFM's Shay Clarke. There was word of a boiler malfunction at Teagasc which had the boffins scratching their heads and readjusting experiments. Census news of farm closures in the South, and news that a government minister was hoping to make farming a "sexy career choice" - still don't get that. All in all, July was a wet month and a bit of a damp squib for news too.
August's edition was dominated by the second tranche of the Arqueros thesis chapter on compost. Once again the piece was an incisive overview of developments in the compost end of the industry. Certainly worth a read for anyone interested in the way the industry has formed.
SIPTU decided to begin a process to implement legally binding Registered Employment Agreements with individual mushroom farmers. SIPTU had reached an agreement with the Mushroom Employers Group on new terms and conditions for a new Employment Regulation Order (ERO) for the Industry. However, SIPTU was not prepared to subscribe to a new ERO due to the failure of the Employers Group to live up to previous commitments. As Stalker noted, the parties concerned in the end failed to reach agreement. The proposed new agreement for the mushroom industry actually would have meant lower wages for mushroom workers. The most important point is that they were not going to get overtime rates. But SIPTU demanded union recognition in each mushroom farm in the Republic as the only way to guarantee that the new wages would be paid.
More comforting news was explored in the spawn sector, where Amycel gained new certification under EU guidelines. The certification provided two major benefits for their customers - guaranteed highest quality products and producer organizations being able to take part in Operational Funding. As the company blurb put it "Amycel, taking you to the next generation and beyond."
In the notes there was a mention of the Foot and Mouth scare that was beginning in Surrey and of some ageing rockers heading to Slane Castle to catch the Rolling Stones concert - they got some satisfaction.
After a dry spell for news in the summer, even though it was pouring down, there was more to report in September.
Researchers at the University of Warwick were co-ordinating a global effort to sequence the genome of the Agaricus Bisporus, as they styled it, the world's most important mushroom. Once again Warwick HRI was at the forefront of mycological science. Meanwhile at Penn State Uni. Researchers were looking into ways to turn mushrooms into drug factories. They are hoping to make beneficial pharmaceuticals by using transgenic DNA to help create vaccines, synthetic hormones or even bio-fuels in a fraction of the time it takes when using ordinary plants. Whatever will they think of next?
A Canadian researcher at the University of Guelph was working on a way to utilise SMC in order to make a high quality material that can then be sold on at a premium. Re-composting compost, sounds like money for old rope.
There was talk of Dutch Polish companies, Okechamp and Ole, potentially merging to create what would be the largest mushroom company in Europe. The International Edible Fungi Exposition in China made its first appearance in the TMP pages. A striking headline mentioned the sub-continents mushroom output at 1 million tonnes. Some Japanese folk were arrested for making false medicinal claims about their nutritional products. Iranian news sources reported an increase in mushroom consumption during Ramadan, while in the UK the TV programme Hell's Kitchen was blamed for creating a wild mushroom shortage.
The straw harvests looked set to be good, giving rise to compost producers' hopes that straw shortages would be a distant memory in the coming year.
A report from Switzerland worryingly predicted that hundreds of that country's mushroom species were facing extinction. While in the UK the rain was credited with causing a bumper truffle harvest, with some dog owners sniffing a profit in the putative truffle boom!
And no good news for the prisoners in Shoshoni, Wyoming, when their mushroom farm was re-opened , but they were no longer employed on it. The inmate labour didn't work out because apparently they weren't dexterous or quick enough at the picking regime.
"THE YOUNG ONES"
Caitriona,Darina, Kerri and Paddy McArdle with Sir Cliff
In the notes that month Cliff Richard made an appearance; there was a dig at the Mushroom Business report on the UK and Ireland industries - Stalker noted that the pre-Christmas editorial in the Biz acknowledged the slight kerfuffle that it caused. The news that food prices were set to soar made the notes. A special code was set up for readers to access the discount on the Mushroom Handbook
Word of one grower who had left the scene, only to return a month or two later was noted. Prunty Peat exited the mushroom sector during the month and the Foot and mouth scare escalated further. And twisted phrase of the month was 'fungible security' - the comforting thought that if it all goes horribly wrong, you can always get a job on a mushroom farm. Witty or wotty?
October carried another weighty article by our resident Spanish roving eye. This time the scholar's laser focus was on the satellite growing system that sprang up and dominated the Irish industry in the 80s and 90s. Again the going was tough for the reader, but there were rewards for those who stuck at the full item which spanned into the November issue also. The top note concerned the aforementioned disgruntlement in some quarters at the Biz editorial of previous months. A little Father Ted skit also featured in the issue, a gentle bit of ribbing for the editor concerned.
On October the 1st the aforementioned merger between Ole and Okechamp came to pass. This move created a mega-player in the mushroom world under the name Okechamp.The Dutch-Polish entity will be one to watch in the coming year.
There were sightings of many, many bales of straw throughout the country - evidence of the fine harvest, and hopefully the alleviation on that part of the compost pricing. And there was news of a massive mushroom gift from the president of North Korea to his southern counterpart - 4 tons of pine mushrooms. Otherwise known as the elusive Matsutake mushroom - a super mushroom if ever there was one - this was certainly a gift not to be sniffed at. That sure was an impressive gesture by the NK leader. With Oil heading to $90 a barrel, the price of everything was beginning to go up, and other nasty news involved the appearance of Bluetongue disease on the east coast of England. This really was turning into the year of the scourges.
The science this month came from two sources. Amycel's Carl Bozicek, with another sideways glance at the problems with casing and mushroom quality, involving a string theory to elucidate his point. Stored SMC and Hydrogen sulphide gas was the theme of the Teagasc science piece, by Helen Grogan, Gerry Walsh and Tom Kellegher. The important research into how the hydrogen sulphide gas is released in the stored material is of crucial importance to growers and mushroom yards up and down the country.
In the quiet month of November Carl Bozicek had another article on Disease Control and Disinfectant rates - a must read for growers at any time of the year. There was the second part of the satellite growing system article. The Chinese organisers of the Edible Fungi Exposition were offering free booths at the event. There were a couple of items on truffles - a mini truffle war seemed to be breaking out in Italy, while in Croatia the prized rarity of the white truffle was driving prices ever higher. In Tibet the Financial Times was reporting on a mushroom rush involving the cordyceps sinensis mushroom - at GBP19,000 per kilo one could understand the mushroom gold rush. Making the notes once again was news of the oil prices reaching the brink of $100 a barrel. There was word of a trip by mushroom industry personnel to Amycel HQ in France. And the bloom of jellyfish that hit the Northern Irish coastal fisheries seemed to fulfil the promise of a plague ridden year.
The final edition of the year in December was chock full of news. There was the ministerial visit - when the Agriculture minister in the North Michelle Gildernew gave a full day over to the industry. A real coup in many ways for the industry, however the question financial of support to the industry from government coffers remained unanswered. The minister's personal support though was warmly welcomed.
Amycel's Kieran Smyth and Sylvna's Mel O'Rourke close in on the minister!
The trip by industry personnel to Amycel HQ received a proper airing - the local delegation got to inspect all aspects of the Amycel operation in Vendome. There was an item on the new picking robot being developed in The Netherlands; the state-of-the-art computational robotics involved heralds a new era in the mechanisation of the picking process. No doubt there will be more on this story in the coming year.
A list of approved products for the mushroom industry was published for the aid of growers throughout the country. The boffins - Mairead Kilpatrick and Paula Mc Poland at Loughgall - were to thank for that comprehensive examination of chemicals approved for usage.
Also an article on the genetics behind mushroom toxins from the US was a interesting scientific piece. A small item on the use of mushrooms technology to be used in bioremediation, specifically to attack PCBs -one of the most dangerous environmental toxins - was of a broader ecological interest. Locally, there was news that Monaghan Mushrooms had joined SIPTU at the Labour court to sign the Registered Employment Agreement. A step in the right direction for the reputation of the industry, but which may come at a price to the workers on the ground, as previously mentioned.
In the notes there was mention of a new phase III development in the offing for 2008 at Carbury; news of a new head at CMP in Monaghan; notice made of the mini mushroom empire sprouting in Emyvale; and a detailed look at what exactly is written on the mushroom bags in Tesco!
And finally news about the Bull that fetched 4,500 pounds sterling at auction for the Middletown GAA club - it was a year where there was plenty of bull and plenty of shit, but all in all another memorable one for the mushroom industry in Ireland - long may it continue!