The fifth All Ireland Mushroom Conference has come and gone, leaving in its wake a definite buzz and some renewed vigour in the mushroom industry in Ireland. On the day the vibe was very good, there was hustle, there was bustle, and the size of the crowds milling between trade show stands to and from the conference hall was heartening to see.
Minister for Agriculture Brendan smith TD was unable to attend due to Dáil business, but northern Minister of Agriculture Michelle Gildernew was able to make an address to the conference and spend a wee while at the trade show before heading off to an Executive meeting in Belfast.
Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Minster Gildernew addressed the conference restating her interest in the industry and support for it. As the mushroom sector was close to her heart, having been an exhibitor at the conference herself not so long ago, she was keen to see a united approach to helping the industry survive and thrive. She noted that industry research had to be co-ordinated so that both parts of the island of Ireland would benefit on a costs and returns basis.
The Minister remarked on the R&D on renewables, which is of interest to all industry and society at large, and was pleased to note that sustainability in horticulture was an important goal for the industry. Before being whisked off to the North’s Executive meeting, Minister Gildernew expressed her best wishes to all at the conference and hoped that the mushroom sector would maintain its place as vital to the all Ireland economy. She wished everyone in the hall a successful year ahead.
Minister Smith’s speech was relayed byDave Behan, Chief Agriculture Inspector from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food.
Dave Behan, Chief Agriculture Inspector from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food gives a speech on behalf of Minister Brendan Smith, TD at the All Ireland Mushroom Conference & Trade Show 2009. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Apologies were made for the Minister’s absence. The Minister’s speech noted that times were not exactly rosy, but one aspect of the sector was highlighted as perhaps needing more attention- that being the operation of PO’s. The largest Irish PO is still very small with respect to EU norms. The Minister believes there could be more territory to explore and exploit there. It was also noted that R&D is helpful in exploiting strategic approaches to the marketplace. The Minister’s speech ended with a hope of success for all the enterprises represented at conference.
Dr Gerry Boyle, Chairman of Teagasc brought the opening of the conference talks to conclusion. His main focus was on productivity enhancements that flow from research, which he deemed to be invaluable. Teagasc as an organisation played a vital part in research in the mushroom sector, in collaboration with colleagues in the North, according to Dr Boyle.
He maintained that the money spent on R&D in the mushroom sector delivered value for money to the taxpayer. Citing evidence, that research grants related to the mushroom industry managed to deliver a return to the taxpayer of 50%, well above the 5% return benchmark target established by government departments for other research grants. Innovation is the bedrock of competitiveness he maintained.
Session 1 of the conference then began, chaired by Brian O’Reilly of CMP. There were talks by Dr Helen Grogan from Teagasc on the latest research going on at Kinsealy and by Mairead Kilpatrick from AFBI on the latest research results from Loughgall. The hall remained packed for all the session 1 talks. Next up was Spent mushroom Compost ‘fertiliser or fuel’ presented by Gerry Walsh of Teagasc. The final talk before the tea break was the eagerly awaited subject of Renewable energy –wood and wind options, by Leslie Codd. Leslie’s talk in light of his recent experience with the set up of his new Dutch type farm was much anticipated and did not disappoint.
Delegates then poured out of the conference hall and into the trade show and adjoining cafeteria area for refreshments and a chance to mull over the issues discussed. Time was also taken to mingle with and reacquaint with other attendees.
Session 2 began quite promptly, the smooth running order of the conference a testament to some fine organisational skills. It was noted that Mairead Kilpatrick had some very fine herding skills, managing to shoo stragglers back into the hall for the second session.
Chairman for this session was Michael Neary of Bord Bia. Michal Slawski from Bord Bia gave the talk on The Market for mushrooms – Ireland and UK. This was followed by Growing to a Blueprint – 300 Tonne per week by Colm Freely from Drimbawn Mushrooms. And taking up the rear was a talk on Currency Volatility by Claire Duffy from the Ulster Bank. Currency imbalances were a theme that recurred throughout the proceedings of the day.
At 5pm, or as near as, there was a Q&A session with the panellists and a few other industry notables. Ronnie Wilson was on the panel - he had been stalking up and down the corridor with his mobile phone just before the Q&A session, perhaps making sure he had the most up to date information at hand?
The trade show stands were slightly less in number than in 2003, but the professionalism of the exhibits and the dedication of the staff manning them was there for all to see. Foreign companies, especially from Holland, made a good showing. Perhaps the pleasant smile of Mark Jacobs at the Christiaens Group stand caught one’s eye, or the gents from Thilot Limbraco, or Panbo’s Peggy with her engaging smile.
Amongst the Irish companies there was a hubbub around JFM’s stand with its mechanical gizmos – Stalker saw the odd person heading to the roof at that stand. Amycel’s stand had loads of goodies on offer and a friendly line-up ready to talk the talk and walk the walk. Monaghan Mushrooms had a cunning plan to refresh you with beverages and canapés whilst playing a very informational DVD on their large flat screen telly. The Dillon Design Engineering stand was good crack – with Tommy’s convex mirror distorting all parts of the body, and the ducts not ducks prop – Tommy’s daughter Ruth makes the ducks!
McDon Peat had a fine stand, chock full of information and photographs of the whole peat production business. Western Casing had some product on the stand, and also had their piece de resistance out in the hotel car park – the loading lorry. What a fine looking vehicle that is. Custom Compost and Walsh Mushrooms made a composite stand.
Scully Grower Supplies had the prime position with their exhibit – the mannequins in masks made an arresting statement as one walked through the door of the trade show, Neil and Sean were looking very happy indeed.
The buzz in the show was mainly one of business beginning to look up, that the worst of the bad times in the industry were quite possibly behind us, and the future was looking a bit rosier. Also on show were Sterckx, WaterTeck, BioKube, Balcas Brites wood pellet technology, Renewable Energy Systems Ltd; Sylvan Spawn had a fine array of fresh produce at their stand. Other exhibitors were Conway Services, Holfeld Plastics Ltd, CMP, McShane Packaging, Powerplan and Colwell Brothers of Cavan. Of course Harte Peat were there with a busy stand, along with Envirocare Sewage Treatment Systems and Energy Conservation Options from Donegal. There was definitely a lot going on at the show!
There were old and new faces at the trade show. Martin Duffy formerly of Amycel was in the hall, reacquainting himself with folk. Reen’s technical rep Robert Wilson was also to be seen taking in all the info on display. David Totten was there, Ronnie Wilson, Mel O’Rourke, and Dermot Morchoe. The numbers of people milling about between the talks and the trade show was anywhere between 200 to 300 punters at any one time.
The poster section of the show was most interesting. With contributions by AFBI, Teagasc, Dublin Institute of Technology, UCD and CAFRE, there was a wealth of technical information there to be taken in. From thermogravimetry to the application of Hypoaspis Miles (that’s them there predatory mites!), through to hyperspectral imaging and metabolomics; there was everything for the technically minded to get their teeth into.
Other notable personages about the conference were the organising committee who could be seen flitting between venues. A hearty well done must go to the organising committee which comprised: Brendan Burns, Sylvan; Leslie Codd, Codd Mushrooms; Noreen Cunningham, Dept. of Agriculture; Patricia Erwin, UFU; Elaine Farrell, IFA; Jim Grant, Teagasc; Helen Grogan, Teagasc; Tom Kellegher; Teagasc; Mairead Kilpatrick, AFBI; Kieran Lavelle College of Agriculture; Mary Mooney, CMP; Michal Slawski, Bord Bia; Gerry Walsh, Teagasc.
The Friday morning activities which people signed up for at the conference were group visits to the very impressive looking mushroom unit of Peadar McGee, just outside Emyvale in Co. Monaghan. And there was an option to visit the Monaghan Mushroom Packhouse at Tyholland. Sign ups to visit both venues was high.
Before heading off into the night <i>Stalker</i> heard one or two people wonder when the next conference might be. When indeed, but we’ll let the dust settle on this very successful event before speculating any further.