The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service issued its annual mushroom report Aug. 20. It states that sales of the 2011-12 U.S. mushroom crop totaled 900 million pounds, up 4 percent from the previous year. Value of sales for the 2011-12 crop is $1.1 billion, up 8 percent from the previous year.
“Nearly 86 percent of the volume of U.S. production is sold in the fresh market,” said Laura Phelps, president of the American Mushroom Institute in Washington, DC.“Fortunately, despite the sluggish economy, demand for mushrooms remains strong. According to Mushroom Council statistics, 2012 mushroom shipments are up 4 percent compared to the same time last year.”
Fresh market mushroom sales, Ms. Phelps noted, have risen for 11 consecutive quarters since the end of 2009, reflecting increased interest in home-prepared meals, a recovering foodservice sector, wider use of mushrooms in vegetarian meals and on quick-service menus and increased product visibility due to industry promotional efforts.
“All indicators are that mushroom consumption has yet to reach its full potential,” added Ms. Phelps.
The mushroom industry is, however, facing some difficult production issues. Ms. Phelps said that growers continue to be faced with tight supplies and increasing costs of raw materials that go into mushroom production, such as hay, straw, millet, corn and soybean meal.
“In some areas, shortages are at a critical level due to the drought,” she said. “What is available comes at a much higher price. Some growers may cut back on production, which could lead to tighter supply in the coming months. Regardless, this will put additional pressure on fresh mushroom pricing.”
Mushrooms are one of the most labor-intensive crops, with each mushroom picked by hand. Growers in all regions say it is becoming more and more difficult to find and retain labor, which is driving up wages. Labor shortages can disrupt harvesting schedules and result in lost production, which is especially critical around the holiday season when sales volumes increase.
“The increasing costs of labor and raw materials will inevitably lead to price increases,” said Ms. Phelps. “Selling mushrooms at a loss is not a long-term business strategy. Just ask any former mushroom farm owner. Everyone expects to see some significant consolidation on the horizon.”