It was a funny old year wasn’t it. It was one of the most revolutionary years in modern times, also one of the most natural disaster filled years of recent times. Financially too it was one of the most frenzied tumult filled years – the euro will it, won’t it? And yet once again one is reminded of the old French saying, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.
The mushrooming year started off quietly enough. There was not much was moving in the snow and ice in January – it had been the coldest December on record in Ulster at least. Cut to this year when it is reportedly the mildest Christmas on record. It’s the extremes of variation that are the worrying thing. One grower was reporting that 2010 had been a good year – one wonders did 2011 live up to expectations. There was chat of Neil Scully’s ascent of Kilimanjaro which was to take place in the summer, which he duly summated. Neil also organised a golfing fund raiser to help with his charity work with Marie Curie Cancer Care. Carbon neutral plans for Dutch mushroom farms featured too as did excitement mounting about the upcoming Mushroom Days in Holland. Mush Comb were delivering bespoke services across the continent. The Mushroom bureau was hoping to see consumers increase their demand for the Irish produce, citing the example of Australia where shoppers bought mushrooms nearly twice as often as in the UK. And there was the awful on farm death toll of the previous year, 25 in 2010; 2011 saw 22 farm deaths, so at least some amelioration there.
There was important info about changes to the maximum residue limits for Disolite and Environ. There was also a piece on the new farm ambitions of Greyfriars and Northern Mushrooms. The Greyfriar story has run and run in 2011. The mushroom bureau £1.8m marketing campaign in the UK got a mention, as did Teagasc news on Nitrates regulations. And finally a bit about Codd Mushrooms getting some good exposure on the RTÉ farming prog EarTo The Ground. All in all, a quiet start to the year.
February came frolicking in with some higher temperatures thankfully, and Limbraco and Thilot were announcing their united efforts in complete mushroom projects. JFM were in receipt of some R&D investment from Invest N.I.
Fancom were promoting their new FarmManager program. Manxoperation Greeba Msuhrooms was featuredas a business that was booming, as the owner Mark Irwin said in the piece – “ Mushrooms are one of the most intensive forms of farming.. We can’t allow anything to go wrong as it will have a significant impact.” The HSA in Ireland was planning more farm safety inspections. And it was reported that European growers of white button mushrooms were seeking renegotiation of prices agreed with processors, due to increased production costs, lower production volumes and reduced imports from China. Fresh mushrooms were also reported to be helping US consumers to meet dietary guidelines. And there were also snippets on the antioxidant properties of Phellinus igniarius – a bracket fungus and on the US Mushroom Campaign to help with cancer research.
In notes there was a grainy photo of Patrick Kernan talking into a brick, or was that a car phone? AST Totten Ltd moved in to supply fibre glass insulation, AHS advanced handling systems were supplying Minitec in Ireland. There was talk of mushroom related technologies being used for car production and also of the Spore Liberation Front – it had to be a spoof?
Muddling on into March one could apply online for registration for the Dutch Mushroom Days, and there was the first word of the upcoming Irish Mushroom Conference in October. There was a unique opportunity for a mushroom grower wanted for an Australian farm. There was huge investment plans in the mushroom industry in foreign lands, with a $45 million investment in a New Zealand farm and a 1 Billion Yuan investment in a mushroom production base in Henan in China.
A report from Hortweek.com outlined the state of the mushroom industry in the UKL, and claimed that there was a resurgence in interest and indeed a revival in the industry across the UK. Scientific endeavours at East Malling Research, linked up with research in Teagasc, was one of the factors considered most crucial in the upturn of the UK mushroom industry. A piece on the risks posed by recycled cardboard packaging caught the eye – with manufacturers of food looking at changing packaging as a result of some science studies into the toxic risks posed. O’Neill Mushrooms in Armagh got a boost with an investment of £200k –a nice boost for any business that. And there was news of a mushroom promotion launched by Polish farmers to promote button mushrooms. Dr Szudyga, head of the Association of Mushroom Cultivators was quoted : ”It has anti-oxidants, mineral salts, microelements such as selenium which is very important; it can be easily prepared and doesn’t need to be peeled, so it takes even less time than it once did."
In notes there was a photo of an edition of The Mushroom People being read in Iran by head grower of Malard Mushroom Co. Mr Kabi. There was talk of Minister Poots and the poo factory, and talk of GenericPR, a buzz word in the advertising industry. Hydrogen as the fuel of the future, to replace oil, was mooted. The Pope got a mention as did biker Tommy Dillon. And it was noted that March has many weathers, ice, snow, sleet, storm force winds, to balmier conditions more akin to spring. All in all, it was a tumultuous month, with the Japanese tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdowns topping off the news.
Advancing into April, and once more no sign of any April fools in this year’s edition of the magazine. There was notice of the upcoming Dutch mushroom days and the robotics stand that was sure to delight all visitors to the event. There was also talk of the upcoming visits to Ireland by the Queen and President Obama – big events in very different ways for the country. Stalker also had news of the time former President of the US Bill Clinton was in the country and passing through an unnamed northern town. A verifiably true story, of misunderstanding and mutual suspicion, redolent of earlier times in a post-conflict Northern Ireland, perhaps.
There was news of an alien walkabout in the bush down under. Research news from UCD that naturally enriched mushrooms may increase vitamin D. Profits at Donegal Creameries was up and oil prices were up too. Mush Comb were generating more new ideas, and ozone was the new idea from the university of Newcastle to help keep fruit and veg fresh. Mushrooms contaminated with radioactivity near the Fukushima plant in Japan were being banned. And there was Saharan dust falling on Ireland with dusty and droughty conditions reported.
Hamish Anderson of Greyfriars Mushrooms was reporting increased interest in chestnut / browns and more exotic types of mushrooms. All in the UK domestic mushrooms was seeing a revival. In the US fresh mushrooms were experiencing their third year of rising sales.Vitamin D mushrooms were a big theme in April, and even touted as a panacea for sun-starved Irish bodies.
And there was the note quote from then IMF head Dominque Strauss Kahn about black swan events – he was soon engulfed in his very own black swan event the very next month.
A Maltese Mushroom factory robot and Monaghan launching a mushroom campaign announced May’s arrival. The Monaghan campaign was a radio and PR campaign to help boost mushroom consumption over the summer. Webcasts showing consumers how to cook mushrooms was one strand of the promotion. Conway Services , supplying chemicals and sundries to the mushroom industry made a reappearance in the advertising.
Monaghan were making more headlines with a prospective 300 jobs being created on a farm in Whitley , there was also some late info on the Monaghan graduate recruitment programme. Missing link fungi were found in a pond in Devon and there was patent specs for a Pingu mushroom house or rather an igloo form mushroom production room with circular shelving and vertical central ventilation.
Stalker noted Teagasc predicting higher farm output across the board in Ireland; April broke the meteorological records for the hottest ever in Ireland, oil prices were spiking and insects were touted as a food of the future. Stalker was likening mushrooms to coffee following the lead of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, there was a mushroom sci-fi thriller mentioned which wasn’t that bad if you like the genre. Celebrity endorsements or anti-endorsements and web opinion on the subject of mushrooms was touched upon – see website Amplicate. The Imperial Bureau of Mycology got a mention and there were UK stamps pictured with mushrooms on them depicting the Linnean Society. Teagasc were also promoting safety on farm coming up to the busy summer months.
June jumped upon us with tales from the Dutch Mushroom Days event. There were plenty of photos in the magazine from the day – however there were still some complaints - apparently the photographer missed a few, or at least one of the Irish stands. Stalker thought the photographer did well for being so kind as to send the photographs on and for the fact that he was a Dutch native, not at all bothered by Irish industry stands.
There was a brand new minister for agriculture in the North, as Stalker noted, another Michelle and a Tyrone woman to boot – so to speak. Marley Compost was finally laid to rest as an entity as Bernard Connolly hung up his composting boots. Stalker was impressed by the Methore robotics stand at the Mushroom Days event – even likening the acronyms to some Dr Who Lore. The German/ European cucumber scare, which turned into a beansprout scare, flagged the increasing need for vigilance and restraint in dealing with food scares.
The weather was unseasonably cold to say the least, apparently Iceland had stolen our weather, and Stalker noted the contretemps surrounding Greyfriars planned expansion, with both sides of the argument getting space in the news sections of the edition. There was a list, not totally complete, of all the Irish contingent who made it over to the big Dutch event in the previous month. And finally there were some photos of David Knudsen from Ostrom Mushrooms in Washington State, Nick Femia from SA Mushrooms, Doug Schirippa and Gary Marzetti from Ostrom over visiting the most up to date Irish farms. The visitors were hosted by JFM, Codd Mushrooms and Bergin’s Mushrooms. One other notable item in the magazine was some mushroom processing units for sale – with a promise of increasing your pick rate by 150-200%.
July duly arrived, with the beaming face of Minister Shane Mc Entee on page 2 – he had been addressing the annual conference of the Association of European Mushroom Growers. The Mush Comb team were touting a new picking lorry that registers the picker’s performance, yet more innovation from the Dutch company. In other news Russia were maintaining an embargo on Polish veg after the “cucumber” scare. Polish growers were understandably upset by the ongoing embargo.
The “more to mushrooms” campaign by The Mushroom Bureau was highlighted; the apple in the shape of a mushroom was one image that caught the eye – a natural source of antioxidants just like a granny smith apple. Freshplaza .com were reporting that mushroom prices in the UK should pick up soon. And from the US there was a piece about how mushrooms have surged in popularity in America since the turn of the millennium.
Making the notes Henk Van Gerwen was reported to have left the industry behind – he’ll be sorely missed. One old industry hand David Seaby’s new career as a writer was noted.Quinn packaging had entered the mushroom industry fray. Tommy Harte had been nominated Captain at the Rossmore Golf Club. There were no mushroom companies as far as Stalker could see mentioned in the Top 1000 Irish companies. There was the disposal sale by Allsop that made the notes with lot 27, the former mushroom, farm catching the eye, and there were mutterings about the good straw being held on to, that is always a sure sign of dodgy summer weather.
Ahead into August there was more reportage on the Greyfriars expansion plans and protesters’ vows to defeat any proposed expansion. Patrick Kernan was in recruitment mode, and Lakeside Mushrooms were getting energy costs down with the help of EcoTwo. There was a Q&A piece from Laura Phelps of the American Mushroom institute and an item on the growing list of radioactive threats to Japan’s food chain, which included mushrooms. Tesco were promoting their new yellow and pink exotic, or gourmet mushrooms. Pulsed UV light was boosting vitamin D levels in Australia. And the Agri-food sector in Ireland was touted as the sleeping giant of the economy –indeed exports of food and drink from Ireland may have broken records, with exports rising 12% in 2011. Figures are not yet available but food and drink exports are expected to reach an all time high of €8.9 billion. Overall the industry is estimated to be worth €24billion.
In the notes Stalker was bowled over by the large biog piece in The Sunday Times about Leslie Codd. The “How I made It” item was carried later in the year. The new highly efficient boiler being installed by EcoTwo was noted – the Therminator. Straw prices were once again exercising minds – if straw prices go down why don’t compost prices? It doesn’t always follow, though. There was Polish reaction to the lifting of the Russian embargo on Polish veg in August. And there was some news of a big party held in a mushroom house in the Brantry, Armagh, by all accounts a right shindig. Stalker also noted claims that the fastest living thing on Earth is a fungus – it’s hard to argue with the numbers.
September swaggered in with more news on the first new mushroom variety to be launched in UK in the past 30 years – namely the Forestiere variety from Monaghan Mushrooms. The new mushroomwas to be available in 400 Tesco stores nationwide. In other news Denny the leading producer and marketer of mushrooms in Africa was bought over by a consortium. Scully were celebrating over 40 years in the mushroom industry and there was a big thank you from Neil Scully for all the support he received in his charity endeavours. His beaming smile from the top of Kilimanjaro said it all. There was a report on the European Mushroom growers who had taken a good look at the Irish Mushroom production system and also at the penetration of continental fresh produce onto Irish supermarket shelves. The OFT in the UK was taking a long hard look at the merger of Sussex Mushrooms into Monaghan Mushrooms. It was the time of year for warnings about toxic wild mushrooms and the Prince of Wales was out foraging on Balmoral estate, just to show how its done – with basket and kilt and staff. Swanlinbar Mushrooms were also in the news pages with their switch to wood chip for heating.
In notes Stalker had a “Doh!” moment in regards to Mush Comb’s new consultancy column. There was news of completion at the Codd Mushrooms complex , with their new Dutch style panel growing rooms – 28 in all. Eco Two were gearing up for conference mode and September was officially proclaimed National Mushroom Month by the US Dept of Ag. There’s some promotion. Also there was mention of the US mushroom data, and profits down at Donegal Creameries,and news of the use of snow in mushroom production in Japan.
October obliged with tales and photographs from the long awaited All Ireland Mushroom Conference – Maintaining Momentum. The conference and trade show were an unqualified success, with quite a large turnout for the event. There were old faces and new faces aplenty, and time for people to reacquaint, as well as get up to speed with the latest developments. Alternative energy solutions and packaging solutions seemed to be 2 dominant themes in this year’s conference and on the trade show floor. In other news there was the Acquisition of Walkro by Monaghan and GIMV. Once again Monaghan was making moves that were causing quite a flutter in the industry. Monterey Mushrooms celebrated the big fortieth in Watsonville California. There was news of worker exploitation in Holland and mushroom sales topping $1billion in the US. There was also some good jobs news with a mushroom venture being given the green light in Cambridge, with the prospect of 200 jobs being created.
Stalker noted the ministerial address to conference, and also the tireless expansion of the Monaghan Mushrooms. There was a new app for i-phone users to I.D. mushrooms – very useful that. Stalker also managed to mention the controversial Rhianna video shoot that caused such a furore the previous month. And the top cooking tip for mushrooms – when frying, do not stir them – works a treat. And no year could go by without some fungus related tip from Ray Mears, survival supremo. This year he demonstrated starting a fire using horseshoe fungus – what a fun guy.
Knocking into November there was more coverage of the previous month’s conference, with more photographs too. In the news sections there was a plug for the agri-food sector by the new northern Agriculture and Rural Development MinisterMichelle O’Neill - “This is a strong sector with excellent prospects, a sector that can stimulate jobs and growth right across the north and a sector that is keen to grow. I am convinced that the time is right for government and industry to come together to grab the opportunity that sits before us.” There were photographs from a fact-finding mission to Poland by a group of Irish growers and mushroom personnel. The Polish farm belonged to Mirosùaw Jachimowicz in Wierzbno, located near Warsaw. There was news from the Tory party conference earlier in the year where Drinkwaters Mushrooms were in full flow. In the US the industry was taking food-safety issues very seriously according to Laura Phelps, and Monterey was receiving awards for its environmental packaging strategy.
Stalker noted that packaging seemed to betrending now in the mushroom sphere. IPP’s mycronutrient got a wee mention. Raymond Mc Kenna formerly of Greenhill Compost was back in the mushroom growing fray with the acquisition of the mushroom farm in Meath that had featured in the Allsop distressed property sale earlier in the year. The weather was occupying Stalker again, with all the meteorological records being broken over the past few years. With the recent “sting jet” wind phenomenon blowing the heads off people in Ireland, you can be sure there’ll be more weather chatter. Also the first question asked of the new consultant’s column run by Mush Comb was when to ruffle?
Finally it was decidedly December, and after another varied year in the mushroom industry, vitamin D was back in the news.A new commercial processing technology to boost vitamin D in mushrooms had been given a go by a scientific paper reported in Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. Greyfriars expansion plans were finally dashed by a planning enquiry in Yorkshire. It was reported that German mushroom production was back on track, and that more radioactivity had been discovered in mushrooms in Fukushima – interesting too that they were grown in greenhouses. A rare mushroom was halting the building of an estate in the West Midlands in the UK and a new pink Barbie pagoda mushroom was discovered, new to science. Mush Comb revealed their new Spent Mushroom Compost and Casing separator – another novel idea from the thinkers in Holland. There was also word of 100 new jobs on a mushroom venture in Canada. The OFT gave the green light to the Sussex / Monaghan Mushrooms deal. And there was mention of BASIS training available from CAFRE and Teagasc.
Making the notes was Brendan McKenna of JFM who was appearing on our television screens in an Invest NI advert for boosting local business. An M&S veg expert buyer touched on the bureaucracy involved in the EU which was stymieing the bringing of enhanced mushrooms to the market in Europe. The Met Office called the weather correctly this Christmas, saying it would be milder and there would be no Siberian snow. McShane Packaging was making the notes too with their new range of products being taken up by Irish and UK supermarkets.
All in all it was a year of ups and downs, but it has to be said that the sector showed itself to have vitality and brio, which isn’t bad in the year that was in it. Hopefully 2012 will not be as dire as all the gloomsayerspredict. But whatever may come, and whatever the weather – have a good one.