2017 was the rollercoaster year that it promised to be, with many ups and downs, swings and roundabouts. Globally dominated by the twin themes of Brexit and the Trump presidency, both those global factors had inputs into the local and national mushroom scene.
The first item of January was on migrant farm workers being able to stay in the UK - basically because the agri food sector depends upon them. South Australia mushroom producer P&L Rogers was investing $4.5 million dollars in a new compost facility. Bord Bia was reporting that Brexit had already cost Irish food exporters €570m in 2016 and that there was more to come. The Northern Agri HQ was selected for future relocation at a cost of £33m, from Dundonald house to a new site at the ex army base in Ballykelly. Irish food and drinks exports were at a new all time high with €11.15 billion reported by Bord Bia.
It was noted that British shoppers were digging deep for Irish mushrooms. Trade volumes for mushrooms were up, the RHI scandal was igniting more furiously. Shiitake mushrooms were in the notes for both good and bad reasons, and we said goodbye to our late editor-in-chief Eilish Corrigan.
February rowed in with the question, what is a mushroom? News that the health benefits of mushrooms could increase sales of the fresh produce. The CRISPR gene manipulation technology got a prominent airing; that technology was one of the big news stories of the year in health circles too. Also there were newspaper headlines on how mushrooms could be helpful in staving of dementia and Alzheimer's. Nutrigain presented an article on the effect of using plastic on the case run with Myrcofeeder and Myrcroliquid.
In notes there was news of mushroom farm takeovers in Tipperary, as Golden Mushrooms was brought under the Walsh Mushroom umbrella. The Costa Group down under got a mention as they were looking for operatives for their facility in Adelaide. There was talk of a mushroom beer from a US student at Harper Adams Uni, and talk of the hottest year ever as 2016 turned out to be.
Motoring into March, the first thing mentioned was eight super mushrooms that one could not afford to ignore - namely reishi, chaga, lion's mane, turkey tail, cordyceps, shiitake, maitake and meshima. Mushroom coffee was also getting a mention, and as it is meant to be the newest fad for 2018, this new fungus drink is one to watch. There was advice on the best way to rinse mushrooms, a method generally avoided by this correspondent. Vitamin D doses were being hailed as a prevention against getting cold. New facilities were reported for Kildare and for Penn State Uni in the US. The poor harvest in winter vegetables on the continent was also seen as a boon for mushroom sales and production.
The Balmoral show got its first mention of the year; the UK environment secretary was promoting the use of robots in agri-food industry; the many weathers of March were also getting a mention. Mushroom hunters in the US were being warned to be tick aware, but a warning for the same in Ireland might be needed too! And the strengthening euro was noted as a threat to the Irish mushroom industry.
Advancing into April, news of a worm eating mushroom found in the UK was the lead item. The marram oyster mushroom was hailed as Kew’s find of the year, after being identified on sand dunes found on English, Scottish, Welsh and French coasts. A row over mushroom compost imports in New Zealand continued to rumble throughout the year. Costa in Australia was spending more than $1 million on generators to protect against power outages down under. Tesco were debuting new waste friendly pulp packaging for fresher mushrooms. And there was a mid-life guide to mushroom coffee, the trend continued.
Noteworthy news included sterling going up against the euro, new car sales going up in the north and down in the south. Stalker was looking at the new Bugatti Chiron - nice car! Industry insiders were reporting the mushroom market to be stagnant, after the buoyant start to the year. Food prices in the UK were beginning their inevitable trend upwards, a trend that accelerated throughout the year.
Meandering into May, Teagasc mushroom specialist Helen Grogan contributed a piece on a new product to control Cobweb Disease, i.e Vivando, the new product from BASF. Vivando was licensed for use in Ireland, The Netherlands, Spain and Belgium, but was not yet approved for use in the UK. There was a large article on the CRISPR technology being used in the US to extend shelf life and stop the browning of the mushroom flesh. The mechanism for bio-luminescence in fungi was also revealed in a scientific article.
Notes included a warning on the food tariff cliff that Brexit might cause, warnings also on agri-food sector recruitment post-Brexit. There was a new app mentioned called Farmdrop which hoped to cut out the middlemen - i.e. the supermarkets. The dark-winged fungus gnat also got a mention, a.k.a. the sciarid fly! Netafim sprinkling system also got a touch.
Jumping into the busy month of June, there was talk of firms evolving to meet the Brexit challenge, and firms expanding to meet the Brexit challenge. UMI Ireland, Unimush to you and me, was reported to be evolving to meet the new circumstances thrown up by the vote to leave the EU. Director of the company, Seamus Cassidy, noted the uncertainty and challenges ahead, but also saw opportunities for future growth. Another leading light in the industry in the north, Hughes Mushrooms, was acquiring a site in England and investing in a new facility to keep the company firmly positioned for the post-Brexit future. In other news, microwaving mushrooms was the way to go according to scientists to get the absolute best out of the fresh produce. It may be the healthiest mode of cooking, but is it the tastiest? Stalker was not convinced. A fossil mushroom from 115 million years ago was found in fossilized specimens from Brazil - when it actually existed the continents were more joined up in the landmass called Gondwana. Mushroom mycelium bricks were being talked up by Stanford artist and lecturer Philip Ross, and a toxic site at Glastonbury was being cleaned up or bio-remediated by Feed Avalon. - a very interesting project indeed.
Noteworthy notes included the Hughes expansion in England, Leslie Codd was extolling the benefits of the super six promos by Aldi supermarket. May was reported to be a very hot month. The humongous fungus got a mention - bigger than an elephant, bigger than a blue whale, the largest organism on earth…! Stalker was salivating over the Rolls Royce Sweptail with its champagne holder, while Bentley were exploring mushroom leather for their interiors. The Hidden Life of Trees is a tome that received a lot of attention throughout the year in various media outlets; and the use of mushrooms to help save honey bees from colony collapse and the Varroa mite was being explored by Paul Stamets and Professor Steve Sheppard at the Washington State University entomology department. Let’s hope that research bears fruit.
Jauntily into July, a sleepier month usually, but this year the CEO of Bord Bia made the pronouncement that Brexit can be a catalyst for positive change for Ireland's exporters - the message was diversify or go to the wall . There was a report on how the international mushroom trade was under pressure. The US Mushroom Council was announcing a research funding opportunity. Researchers in Taiwan and Australia were collaborating on work on the efficacy of mushrooms to fight Alzheimer's. Aussie researchers were also looking at turning mushroom waste into a nutritious sports drink - it sounded yuck.The North American Mushroom Conference in Quebec had taken place.
In notes, Nutrigain were offering simple solutions to watering on supplement during the case run. The fatality rate for farmers in Ireland was noted as 10 times that of the average worker. The Ulster Fry Index was heralded as a good indicator of food price inflation; robots were getting more and more airtime - the advance of the robots gets ever closer! SA Mushrooms from Australia were unveiling their vitamin D mushrooms; and the definition of an expert consultant was revealed.
Advancing like the robots into August, it was a quiet month, with news on the economic outlook from Ibec. There was an item on how to clean different varieties of mushrooms. Scientists were also voicing concern over a new wild mushroom photo identification app. It’s not something that you want to get wrong, that’s for sure.
Sterling took another nosedive against the euro falling below €1.10 for £1. The new link up between Conway Services and Koppert got a mention, a fruitful partnership between local company and a mushroom industry world leader. Again the ramifications of Brexit seemed to run through every news item and note.
Slipping into September, a more newsy month, the new Hughes mushroom facility in East Yorkshire was a point of interest. The 11 acre site in Howden was billed as a standard setter for the mushroom industry. The company also announced expansion plans for its Dungannon base with a new production facility planned. The IFA was calling for an urgent response to support beef and mushroom producers because of the £/€ rates. There was news of Canada’s promotional activities for mushrooms, called “Blend and Extend”; Gerry Reilly, the IFA horticulture chairman was warning that the mushroom sector was at breaking point. There was news of anti-cancer mushroom research at the University of Florida, focusing on the coprinus comatus mushroom, and a mini book review of The Mushroom at the End of the World. Finally there was the tragic news of a fatality at a mushroom farm in Co Monaghan, a horrible accident which claimed the life of Gary Askin who went to the aid of his brother and another worker in a silo at the mushroom unit.
October rolled in with a chaotic weather forecast and salt approved for growers. The European Commission approved the use of salt under its basic substance programme for use on crops to help control a range of fungal diseases. Researchers were looking to fungi to find useful substance in the Biotech Centre at Limerick University. Walsh Mushrooms were launching a new vitamin D range in the UK, to be available in selected Aldi stores from early October. Magic mushrooms were being seen in a new light, with news that they can help reboot the brain in people with depression. The advice was - do not try this at home, but only under medical supervision. The new Star Trek Discovery series hit the airwaves on Netflix, with mushroom specialist Lt Commander Paul Stamets making a big impression in the trekkie universe. This lead to one of the better headings in the magazine - To Moldly Go.
David Totten contributed a piece on whether bigger was better, looking at how mushroom personnel use what they have to best control energy costs. The new Heliotube technology also got a mention, a new way of getting the best out of solar energy.
Notes ranged from vitamin D mushrooms, to the right choice of wine to go with mushrooms. The weather forecast for more severe winter storms rang true, as we’d already experienced the complete 2-day shut down of Ireland for Storm Ophelia. And there was a tribute to Armagh businessman John McKenna who passed away in the summer, an innovator in the world of growing mushrooms back since the 1960s.
Nudging gently into November a big article on eating mushrooms to feel fuller highlighted how mushrooms helped people feel more sated if they had them with their breakfast meal. The anti-ageing potential of mushrooms was also laid out by a new Penn State University study. The Donegal Investment Group / Monaghan mushrooms saga was reaching some sort of resolution, with news of a €45m deal in the offing. And Bord Bia were announcing their shortlist for the Food and Drink Industry Awards, with Monaghan Mushrooms up for a sustainability award. The rare black truffle was grown in Britain for the first time by company Mycorrhizal Systems Ltd, and there was news of the death of Antonio Carluccio the larger than life Italian chef whose fondness for mushrooms knew no bounds. The notes highlighted the front page news that eating mushrooms to fight disease was now headline news. Sterling was deemed to be wobbly, and another casualty of the vicious business environment was the Button Mushroom Company in Co Armagh. Mushroom coffee was once again in the news - what does your mushroom latte say about you? Truffle prices were also reported to have shot through the roof after the driest October in Italy in sixty years.
Deftly weaving into December, the sustainability award went to Monaghan Mushrooms at the Bord Bia “Oscars”. There was news of a food label plan to help cut food waste. The GameChanger from the Mushroom Machine company based in Lisburn got a mention. In notes, Codd Mushrooms were also getting some kudos, being shortlisted for the Best Managed Companies award. A new recruitment service for agri-personnel in Ireland was launched by GS Agri Recruitment. Mush Comb had a new automatic picking lorry on the market, and farm safety was still a much noted theme. Finally mushrooms were adjudged to be good for mood, and the festive mood at the end of the year was judged to be good.
Hopefully 2018 will be a good year for the Irish mushroom industry, although there are many challenges up ahead, the industry has always proved to be resilient and competitive in the face of adversity.