Mushroom growers facing 'massive crisis'

Photo: GETTY
Photo: GETTY

Claire fox

Ireland's mushroom growers are in the midst of a "massive crisis" due to increased substrate (compost) prices coupled with the uncertainty of Brexit and rising overheads.

Commercial Mushroom Producers CEO, Donal McCarthy, said that the increase in demand among dairy farmers for straw for fodder and bedding as a result of the recent drought has caused the price of mushroom substrate - which is made of straw - to surge.

He said that the price of mushroom substrate, which is the main ingredient of mushrooms, has increased by 15-20pc due to the fact that it has to be imported from France and Spain as it is in scarce supply in Ireland.

"Straw is very expensive and scarce at the moment," said Mr McCarthy. "It has to be imported and inevitably that means our costs of production are going to increase. Compost makes up a third of the product and when that goes up in price by 15-20pc it will obviously have an effect on growers.

"There has been a huge transition of land from tillage to dairy in recent years, which has meant that there is less straw for compost available, and the bad weather this year and drought has led to a fodder crisis, which is making it more difficult for mushroom growers to access straw."

IFA mushroom chair, Gerard Reilly, said that he is currently paying over €200/t for compost as a result of the current crisis.

Fluctuating Sterling/Euro exchange rates and rising costs in energy and labour are also increasing overheads of mushrooms growers, who supply 50pc of mushrooms sold in the UK market.

"We've been through a very difficult time. When exchange rates moved two years ago when Brexit was announced, some companies died and now there is a severe labour shortage in the sector and energy costs are set to increase by 20pc," said Mr McCarthy.

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Mushroom grower numbers in Ireland have decreased from 700 in 2004 to around 40 today. Mr McCarthy said that since Brexit, his organisation has lost 40pc of its members but despite this they are still supplying the same volume of mushrooms to the UK.

However, he said that due to rising costs and Brexit the industry is struggling badly and that major stakeholders need to work to ensure they hold this volume in to the British market.

"All stakeholders and the government need to come together because we are in a massive crisis. We can get through this but we need help. These increases in costs of production merit an increase in the price paid for mushrooms at the farm gate.

"Labour is hard to get and hard to hold on to but depending on the time of the year the mushroom industry provides 3,000-3,500 jobs in rural areas which is very important to the rural economy."

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