2018 was a year of potential and purpose - in the mushroom industry and worldwide there was much going on, much to observe and much to muse over.
New antibiotics were mooted in January by a team from the University of Bristol, with mushroom basis forming the main research. Pleuromutilin derivatives were the basis for the new research and the team involved have high hopes for the production of new, effective antibiotics. CRISPR technology also got a mention, and why gene-edited foods might be on supermarket shelves quicker than anyone thought. Later in the year the news of gene-edited babies caused a lot of shock and outrage in the scientific community. The best mushroom recipe of the year(in Stalker’s opinion anyhow) was printed - tagliatelle mushrooms with brandy and peppercorns, and cream to boot. Hard to beat.
Noteworthy subjects included a record year for Irish food and drink exports Veganuary got its first mention ever in the magazine - this year it's all the rage again, with four times as many vegans in the UK as there was just 2 years ago - it’s definitely a trending trend. Gold Circle Mushrooms got a mention, as did a new mushroom handbag, and self-healing mushrooms touted as a cure all for crumbling infrastructure in the US.
February followed with dire warnings about a shortfall in workers for the horticulture sector in the UK; sudden stratospheric warming got a mention - the phenomenon that lead to the Beast from the East - the predictive precision of the weather experts was spot on in this instance. Monaghan Mushrooms was partnering up with UK food charity Fareshare. A new compost facility was mooted in the Tipperary region, at the Lisheen Mine under the auspices of CMP, which has the potential to create 60 new jobs. Stalker was intrigued by the exchange rate of 20 years ago when £1 was equal to €1.50 - a quare change there. A professor of botany at TCD was espousing a philosophy of consuming less to save the planet - a kind of “slacker” philosophy which sounded promising. A note about the €300 million fund for Irish businesses , a Brexit loan scheme was mentioned - very few seemingly have taken up the offer. A new initiative by Teagasc called Teagasc Connected got a mention. The Whole Brain Diet espoused mushrooms as a good food. And the weather lore about Candlemas predicted that winter would have another bite - and it did!
As we went shivering into March with blizzards and plummeting temperatures from the Beast, there were increasingly dire warnings emanating over the Brexit scenarios firming up. Northern Ireland farming was noted to be at risk from falling behind the rest of the UK due to lack of a local government administration. BIOrescue got a mention - an umbrella group of partners collaborating to help use biomass in a sustainable way. Monaghan Mushrooms, as one of the biggest mushroom producers in Europe, was inevitably involved with the scheme. A mushroom compost biorefinery is the initial aim of the scheme. Bord Bia meanwhile were spending more on the promotion of mushrooms in a multi-million euro campaign, partly funded by the EU and aimed at pushing the produce in the UK and domestic markets. Vitamin D meanwhile was being hailed as a cure-all for many modern ills afflicting the populations in these islands. Fyffes, the banana people, were purchasing Highline Mushrooms in Canada and making inroads there in the mushroom industry.
April arrived with demand for fresh mushrooms surging in the US. The IFA was pushing the business minister to look at the issuing of work permits because of the shortfall of workers in the south. Mycological science was advancing with the news that paternal and maternal DNA in fungi is active at different times. CRISPR technology was mentioned again as the future of food no less.
The picker shortage got a mention in the notes, with the farming press indicating that there were approximately 600 vacancies for operatives and pickers in the Irish mushroom industry. Kerrigans mushrooms were getting a plug in the Aldi in-house brochure. Whole Foods, an American store, was trialling a new concept, a mushroom farm in-store where you pick your own mushrooms. Currency ups and downs were getting some attention, and the first ‘fodder bother’ of the year was highlighted - who knew there would be two fodder crises in the one year emanating from the extreme weather conditions! Alas there were no April fools in this year's edition, a tradition that maybe has gone by the wayside.
Maybe the May edition held the highest hopes for the year, with a big heads-up about the potential of plastic eating mushrooms getting an airing. The planet of plastic that we now inhabit has become one of the biggest news and ecological stories of the year. That fungal technology and bioremediation may help in solving Earth’s plastic problems is big news. Other interesting green news was the making of biofuel from mushroom waste, with researchers in Singapore discovering a novel way to transform mushroom industry waste into a green biofuel. In the UK, hopes that it could become a truffle capital by 2050 was making the news. More locally, a Monaghan-based mushroom farm manager was winning awards at the Balmoral Show. Andrew Shanks scooped Young Producer Of The Year award, due to his work in improving efficiencies at the Monaghan Mushrooms Tyholland production facility. And local industry entrepreneur, David Totten was pictured out in Shanghai - soaking up the Formula 1 racing, and checking out the local mushroom farms!
In notes, the biggest ever Balmoral show was charted. The Max-Fac solution to the border customs conundrum was first mooted. CEO of Monaghan Mushrooms Ronnie Wilson was on the airwaves talking about the development of the industry on the island of Ireland and the evolution of his own company into an essentially a biotech business. The new science of nutrigenomics got a mention.
June gave us proper weather and the beginning of the long hot spell that created its own unique challenges in the farming sector. The ever looming spectre that is Brexit hit the news pages with an item on how fruit flower and mushroom growers were denied a seat at the North’s Brexit departmental steering group. There was concern that voices from the horticulture sector were not being heard. There was an item on why men should be eating more mushrooms, and the effect Brexit could have on the ingredients of a fry up, potentially pushing up prices for mushrooms and maybe causing shortages of the produce, according to this analysis. Penn State University was producing research on how to deal with infestations of mushroom phorid flies in the Chester County area.
Agriculture was noted as the most dangerous work sector in Ireland. GE ( gene edited) super-crops were to be grown in the UK for the first time, it was reported. And oil prices were on their way upwards.It was also the month that the industry north and south lost a couple of stalwarts in the persons of Derek Spears and Oliver McCann - both men will be sorely missed.
Into sizzling July and the notes were all hot, hot, hot. Heatwave related news dominated, with straw shortages predicted, absolute drought and even talk of rain on St.Swithin’s Day. What was left of Button Farm Mushrooms was up for sale, according to the Belly Telly (a.k.a. the Belfast Telegraph). Brexit arrangements were being mooted by the Irish Foreign Minister and Tanaiste Simon Coveney. Plastic was again being demonised by the media according to top scientists. There was the first mention of the Dutch mushroom Days 2019 in the magazine. CMP were advertising for their capital investment programme for the upcoming year 2019. And the untapped potential of mushroom beta-glucans was to the fore. They possess a ‘wide variety of health benefits and functional applications as nutritional bioactives’ no less!
Anticipating more hot news in August, Monaghan Mushrooms had another award winner in the guise of Niall Whittle of the company's Langford farm in Somerset. He won outstanding producer award at the M&S Farming for the Future Awards for England and Wales. There was more news on the 2019 Mushroom Days event in The Netherlands, with the “Spotlight on Mushrooms” announced as the theme. There was more news on the efficacy of mushrooms in fighting cancer, with one Russian expert talking about contemporary fungotherapy. With so much of the disease about in modern day life, let’s hope the high hopes for fungi fighting cancer is not misplaced.
Walsh Mushrooms were in the news, expanding their supply for the Aldi chain at their UK operation based in Evesham. There was news of a devastating fire at Gortmore Mushrooms in July, which left 22 people out of a job, after three decades of operation. The rise of Quorn, a vegan favourite, as a foodstuff was also noted. As was the pound sterling slide down to danger territory against the euro following remarks by the Governor of the Bank Of England. Morrisons supermarket was one of the first big shops to make moves on removing plastic packaging. By the end of the year all the supermarkets were making such moves.
Slipping and sliding into September, news of a major increase in the COdd mushroom supply to Aldi was welcomed. Kew Gardens , one of the biggest botanical research stations in the world, released its state of the world’s fungi report. It was the first report of its kind and included a global round up of the importance of fungal systems to natural habitats throughout the world. The use of mushrooms as a prebiotic was investigated in one article and news that mushroom pickers were being trained on virtual reality goggles down under also made riveting headlines!
Notes indicated that the month would be a shake-out month. Due to several factors managing to clobber the mushroom industry at the one time - currency exchange rates, straw scarcity and the weather, combining to create troubles for growers. Sylvan Inc were being acquired by Chinese company Yuguan. Penn state were reporting on mushrooms ability to aid with glucose regulation, and thus perhaps being effective in the treatment of type 2 diabetes - watch this space as they say. The news from Kew that plastic munching fungi had been identified on a dump in Pakistan also made for interesting reading. Ther Brexit loan scheme seemed to be poorly taken up, with just €2.5 million being loaned out thus far in the year. And mushrooms in your chocolate, thanks to the US supplier MycoTechnology seemed a less distant prospect.Yum yum.
Oddly October was full of diverse reports, from the use of three port valves in cooling systems for mushroom units, to million dollar mushroom gifts from one Korean leader to another. It was an odd month. Everyone, everywhere, was crying out for some clarity and certainty about Brexit, but as we know, none really was forthcoming. Bord Bia CEO Tara McCarthy saw the UK’s difficulty as an opportunity for Irish farmers.The price of compost was heading upward, as the consequence of the straw shortages took hold - €230/t was now the going rate. CMP CEO Donal McCarthy warned that growers would need to be getting higher prices for the produce as a consequence.Down under a dynamic young mushroom farmer was winning prizes for his new innovations on farm - with compostable packaging, cryptographic ledger technology and automotive efficiencies being the key to new found success.
The notes focussed on uncertainty, compost price rises, silver linings, nutrient enrichment, recipes that quadruple household mushroom intake, jobs growth, oil price rises, and falls, currency variations, malign tech in the shape of drones, clement weather and inclement climate. A heady mix of issues heading into the winter months.
Nudging into November, and the winter weather seemed to stay away, it was like we’d entered an early spring. Monaghan Mushroom laboratory assistant traineeships got a mention, as did the potential for mushrooms to generate electricity under Stalker’s favourite headline of the year “Bionic Mushrooms”. The Teagasc Walsh Fellowship overall winner was highlighted in the edition - Eoin O’Connor whose research on the visualisation of viruses in the mycelium of Agaricus bisporus was much lauded. The Dutch and Belgian industries were lightly reviewed, and a report on indoor neon-lit mushroom farms in New York City was diverting.
An ominous note on the existential threat to the mushrooms industry in Ireland, emanating from the EPA, and directed towards the extraction of peat in the casing soil end of things. All very worrying indeed - with the ecological, environmental and economic arguments all the to hammered out. A new website called mushroommatter.com got a mention, a Dutch based site with news on the industry worldwide. Brantry in Tyrone got a place name mention - who knew it originally came from the word for stench? The New Scientist mag reported on a novel new technology being developed to help clean up pollution, utilising micro-bots made from iron-oxide-coated mushroom spores.
As December hoved into view the hopes of any resolution on the problem of Brexit declined also. There was national news on dementia-easing mushrooms that had been nicked from the New Forest. The Bord Bia shortlist for its Origin Green Famer Awards included a couple of mushroom farms, which unfortunately didn’t end up category winners. But a good effort nonetheless by the two farms involved - Reilly’s Mushrooms and Clune Mushrooms. There was a little idiosyncratic piece on electric vehicles by David Totten, peering into the potential electric future that awaits us all.
In notes the numbers declining in the Irish mushroom industry was featured. A dwindling core of mushroom producers producing the same output as 20 years ago - the indigenous industry is obviously remarkably resilient. The UFU were happy to nominally endorse the Agreement forged by the UK and EU on Brexit - but they are not the voice carrying the day. Old coal mines were being touted as the perfect spot for new mushroom farming in Wales. The rise of poultry mega farms and attendant disproportionate ammonia production in Northern ireland got a mention. Oil prices were well down, under $60 a barrel and then going for under $50 a barrel near Christmas. McDonald’s were purveying new Swiss mushroom burgers, and new vitamin B12 fortified mushrooms especially targeted at the ever burgeoning swathes of vegetarians and vegans in the population, were being developed by CMP growers.
All in all, 2018 was the year of vacillating uncertainty over the “Britex” question, with the spectre looming of a crisis in early 2019. Let’s hope cool heads and kind hearts prevail in this new year, and predictions of upheavals and unsettlings come to nought. Roll on 2019!