Cathal Ellis, Mushroom Development Adviser, Greenmount Campus discussing mushroom crop records with Paul McKenna, of Malachy McKenna Mushrooms, Benburb
Cathal Ellis Mushroom Development Adviser, Greenmount Campus, College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise.
Northern Ireland mushroom growers have established a reputation for the excellent quality of their produce. The majority of growers belong to the Assured Produce Scheme, which follows the principles of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) programmes.
Mushroom growers are operating in an increasingly competitive environment. The combination of relatively static market returns and increased production costs over the last few years has impacted on their businesses. As a result, many producers are now reassessing their mushroom businesses and revising performance targets with the focus on areas for improvements.
To meet this need, the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise, Greenmount Campus, has developed the ‘Mushroom Challenge’. The ‘Mushroom Challenge’ is designed to enhance the decision-making skills of mushroom growers, with the aim of optimising the efficiency of production and improving the yield and quality of the crop.
The Mushroom Challenge enables growers to assess the latest developments in crop production, to identify pests and diseases at an earlier stage and apply management strategies for their control. The Challenge provides an opportunity to discuss practices and share experiences with other growers. Completing the Challenge provides evidence for Quality Assurance audits of training and development, in both ‘Crop Production’ and ‘Pest and Disease Management’. The Mushroom Challenge programme is validated as a nationally recognised qualification.
The ‘Mushroom Challenge’ has been running since January with a group of dedicated growers representing a range of mushroom farms from 3 to 18 mushroom houses. To date, the group has discussed compost management, best hygiene practise on the farm, and reviewed their individual businesses. This included ‘benchmarking’ systems to record and analyse individual farm data against ‘best-in-class’ benchmarks. The group members have also received support from the Greenmount Campus Mushroom Development Adviser.
Future sessions of the Mushroom Challenge will include management of climate control equipment, pest and disease management, and research updates with renowned guest speakers. A proposed Study Tour will visit a ‘shelf farm’ in the Republic of Ireland and look at other innovations such as the Mushroom Processing Unit produced by Axis Systems Ltd, Gilford. Co. Down. To date those attending the Mushroom Challenge have enjoyed a constructive and interesting programme. Paul McKenna from Benburb who is attending the Mushroom Challenge stated ‘I enjoy the social interaction and have learned a lot from my colleagues on all aspects of running a mushroom farm business’.
Further information on the Mushroom Challenge programme can be obtained by contacting Cathal Ellis, Mushroom Development Adviser, Greenmount Campus