January 2009 had a cold snap in it - little did we know then that the year would end with a cold snap to end all cold snaps.The main news in the notes was the headline that the All Ireland Conference date had been set for May 21.
Notes-wise there wasn't much other news. John Peeters had been over in the border area, and Chronos Richardson had received some leading safety accreditation. In the US Monterey Mushrooms had pledged a New Year resolution to challenge families to get more Vitamin D by eating more mushrooms, their Sun Bella mushroom produce being the perfect choice. Mushrooms as slimming aids was another article of note at the beginning of 09, Stalker must admit that eating mushrooms did nothing to lessen the girth personally over the year.
The main article of the month focused on Fiddleford Mushrooms, tracing the history of the company in 1988 in three tunnels on rented land in Dorset. The picking team was deemed the key to the company's consistently high yields, and provenance of produce one the company's main USP's. The front page had JFM offering the complete package, and ReenCompost on the back offering Quality Compost, some good old reliables in a year of uncertainty.
February was a month that brought the challenges of the year into sharp focus. A lot of companies in every sector were reeling from the severe constriction of the credit crunch. Quantitative easing was the buzz phrase – in the UK the Bank of England was putting out unbelievable amounts of liquidity into the banking sector. Some reckoned it could have been aimed better if it had been handed out to citizens directly! There was word of a compost bill in the US that was potentially going to change the mushroom industry there.
In notes, there was word of supermarket suppliers being squeezed and mushroom industry suppliers feeling the squeeze.In the US there was a national stuffed mushroom day, and a recall on some enoki mushrooms. From the UK came a report which had Greyfriars boss John Smith urging the Irish mushroom industry to get a reality check. There was more on mushrooms as functional foods and mushrooms as dieting aids. The closure of Florida’s Quincy farms was marked. Oddities included the news of Comet Lulin – Stalker still wonders if anyone spotted it and news of a cow urine drink from India – you couldn’t make it up.
There were machines and machinations to contend with in March. Chornos Richardson had a new Horizontal Form, Fill and Seal Bagger on show, and mushroom engineered insulation had arrived thanks to two innovative US students. There was a piece on jargon busting, who knows if anyone paid any heed to that. There’ll be no more blue sky thinking around here, that’s for sure! News of mushrooms strengthening immune systems in mice, and news of mushrooms helping to cut breast cancer risk graced the pages.
Warwick HRI came out top of the class in some governmental research assessment – well done there and in the US mushroom growers were reporting increased consumer demand for the produce.
The Dutch Mushroom days were setting out their stall for the event to come and the Where There’s Muck TV series was mooted- spoof that it was.The notes noted Sterling’s slide against the euro especially, that demand for the mushrooms was good, and that the first lady in the US was serving up a mushroom risotto. It was an interesting month for serious news and the not so serious too.
April was a month brimming with news, with views, with green shoots and with numbers. In the South 110 hort producers were receiving grant aid of €3.8 million from the Department of Agriculture.
Tesco announced profits of £3 billion in the UK and the credit crunch was costing the financial system a reputed $4 trillion according to the IMF. Oblivious to this some Storker news came with the arrival of bairnsEllen Rose in Brantry on the Tyrone Armagh border, and baby Rhianna connected to the Reen folk.
Phrophyl which was advertised on the front of the April edition was causing some confusion for growers - the product wasn't on the approved list of the Pesticide Control Service, but Assurances were made that a technical hitch at the Department was to blame for the omission. Monaghan Mushrooms were holding workshops at the Four Seasons Hotel for their growers. Oliver McCann was on winning form at the horses again in Ayr.
The yearly April fool spoof which appears in the March edition foxed a few growers. And joker Carl Bozicek was pictured with a whopping fish he had caught. In hard news, Harte Peat were launching a bulk peat service. The company's liveried lorries and trailers were fitted with new machinery to deliver peat as it is required. Scully Supplies were celebrating 35 years in the mushroom industry, quite an achievement that is. Two other wee stories of note were the mushroom that was threatening to ruin some wedding days, and the shiitake a day keeping the doctor away!
May was dominated of course by the conference news. Survive and thrive was the theme of the conference, and most delegates were concentrating on the first part of the title.
The fifth All Ireland Mushroom Conference was regarded as a great success if a much diminished event. All the usual suspects were there, and the industry showed itself to be much smaller than at the last outing, but also resilient and resourceful. Minister Gildernew from the Northern executive made it to deliver a speech to conference; unfortunately Minister Smith had other pressing engagements which were unavoidable.
In the notes, Stalker noted some sizeable funds that CMP had received. Leslie Codd was rumoured to be making a large investment in an automated production unit. Stalker noted that Scully had put on an impressive display at the conference venue. Glut or rut was the question with regards to supply of fresh produce.
Tesco were feeling some heat from angered farmers in the South. And the swine flu panic was really beginning to ratchet up a few notches - Hamageddon indeed. Chronos Richardson were catching a grip with their new robotic arms. The tech comes from Japan in the shape of a Kawasaki Robot Arm - if they're anything like their bikes, they're awesome. JFM announced a new A13 Growing room, and wee Rory Seamus Cranney announced his entry to the world!
One of the most outstanding pictures of the year came in June, with the shot of the, some thought rude, photograph of a new type of stinkhorn mushroom. The mushroom bureau was reported as saying that the UK industry was in a strong position.
Reports from the Mushroom days in Holland put the figures attending that 3 day event at three and a half thousand. There were many photos from the den Bosch event also, showing the Irish contingent enjoying themselves to the max, one highlight being Teresa Dillon in full flow with the mic, entertaining the assembled Irish crowd at a post conference shindig.
Belgian compost company Sterckx announced their arrival on the scene with a new rep in place in the North. The halo effect of mushrooms was also mentioned, in relation to encouraging shoppers in supermarkets to buy more fresh produce.
Mushrooms were cheap at Sainsburys, but an EU report was reporting on imported dried mushrooms from China with elevated nicotine levels. If you're like Stalker, you prefer your nicotine from tobacco sources rather than mushroom ones, if at all. The market for mushrooms in Ireland and the UK was the focus of the main article by Michal Slawski from the previous month's conference papers that were delivered. There were also more photos from the May conference. One other light piece was the report on the new heaviest element - governmentium (Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons. Obviously this is all still absolute fact!
July saw mention of An Bord Snip Nua - the axe wielding body in the South reported to be promoting swingeing cuts in public spending - no sector was immune.
There was talk of the potential investment in Yorkshire at the Greyfriars operation in Wath. There was also a report on the growing opposition to the presaged 7,000sq metre new farm from locals. Another contentious development, the Rose Energy chicken litter powered incinerator to be developed on the lough shore in the North. Only now in January 2010 is that development getting the green light, in the face of stiff local opposition.
The Dutch robotics team who had made such an impression at the Den Bosch Mushroom Days featured in the edition. The boys at Methore seem to be brimming with ideas for automation and computer tracking. Another continental compost outfit began advertising - this time a Dutch Compost firm Hooymnans Compost. Premier Tech launched a spare and tech service for the UK, Ireland and Europe.
The main article feature was on renewable energies, with wood and wind options being examined n farm at the Codd Mushroom enterprise in the South. Bio Chips and wood chips by Balcas also got mention after winning some industry awards. The first world wide fall in demand for oil since 1993 was also noted.
Everyone in the mushroom sector and beyond was still feeling the pressures of recession and credit crunch.
Talk of depression and sensitivity lead the August charge. Some closures were mentioned and the leaving of Amycel rep Eilin Connolly brought a lump to Stalker's throat. Happier news made it through with the report of the world record beating attempt at combine harvesting in one field in one go, for charity. As mentioned before loads of dosh was raised by the very worthy record breakers.
Staycationing was the mot de mois, as was swine flu fatigue. Twitter got its first mention of the year, another phenomenon, or another fad? The Rose Energy power station got another touch, with the startling figure of 3.84 million litres of water per day from Lough Neagh being touted as the cooling requirement for the biomass plant. The 5th International Medicinal Mushroom conference in China itinerary for September was listed.
The article Growing To A Blueprint from the May conference was published as well. And mushroom supplier and processor Unimush based outside of Armagh was profiled also. Local mushroom industry entrepreneurs Des Harding and David Totten had an advertising presence, exhibiting confidence in the sector and in their burgeoning businesses.
Management of the casing layer and currency volatility were two of the main themes in the September issue. Both would be topics of interest to all growers out there. There was news of a new Irish mushroom guide, just in time for the fruiting season in the wild. Noteworthy news snippets included word of summer nuptials for Shane Colton, and a love Irish food campaign to promote favoured Irish brands in the teeth of recession and dire demand. Stalker was fulminating against Twitter again, or rather being charged to learn how to use it. The CMP website got a mention as did a pink and cuddly version of the swine flu virus. Summer was declared a wash out by the Met offices in UK and Ireland, and news of new road designations in the South was causing some consternation among farmers being forced to take tractors off some bypasses around the country.
Many people remarked on the change on the front page with a Custom Compost advert detailing 30 years in the industry, and investing for the future, in the October issue.
The Greyfriars factory expansion was refused permission by the local council in Ripon - understandable the MD John Smith was not happy with the decision. In England also Agricultural Supplies Company fell foul of planning permission rules and subsequently went out of business. The Irish connection there was to Walsh Mushrooms.
Making the notes were growers visiting Belgium and Holland, Bord Bia in Germany,Scully Supplies winners, ex-growers reminiscing happily, and happy to be ex growers.
Mushrooms and vitamin D were making news again - helping to plug the adolescence gap. The main article was the continuation from the month previous on the Preparation and Management of The Casing Layer. As the author put it, it may not be exactly new, but the science and techniques therein remained sound. McShane Packaging made a welcome return to the pages, with a new product line manufactured from polypropylene.
With JFM back on the front page advertising Eco Quilt for cleaner greener tunnel insulation, the month of November rolled in with news of far off acquisitions and adventures. Des Harding was out in Thailand putting together mushroom houses for a JFM op in the Kingdom. News of a Monaghan acquisition in Canada came as no surprise to Ronnie watchers in the local industry. Tanaiste Mary Coughlan was able to announce the big news on an Enterprise Ireland trade mission to the country.
There was news of expansion at Codd Mushrooms, and news too of a very bespoke service offered by John de Gier the affable and knowledgeable Dutch man - he can take your worries away and oversee your mushroom farm while you go and take a long deserved holiday. What a guy! Hopefully growers will take up the offer, as time away frees the mind to envision better things - we all need our very own John!
Word too of Luman Shelves, the new outfit fronted by David Totten, providing tailored shelving for Irish and worldwide growers. Things were certainly on the move. Revamped websites was a theme of the month, with McDon and Mc Shane also having new gleaming webpages ready to be surfed on the world wide web. Bad news from the states, with the layoff of 260 workers at Creekside Mushrooms in Pennsylvania. Locally, Polygon Recycling, the waste collection and recycling firm from Armagh had received perfect inspection passes from the NI Environment Agency. The free collection and recycling of waste plastic service is surely a must for all mushroom growers in the vicinity. Carl Bozicek had more invaluable information on what it is we want from a casing. Compost worms made it into space on the space shuttle Atlantis - they boldly went.
Chasing in to the close of the year, the December issue had news of a new arrival, wee Craig Breeden born to growers Darren and Anne the month previously.
Stalker was trying to grow some mushrooms, but with not much success it must be admitted - better to buy them down the local shop! There was an article on the tumour shrinking quality of maitake mushrooms - once again all medicinal claims must be taken with a pinch of salt.
A science piece had worked out what a perfectly designed mushroom gill should look like - not sure if that was useful information or not. The folk at BeckerUnderwood were installing a huge new vat in their premises at Littlehampton. And elsewhere scientist had managed to grow some kind of meat in the laboratory - yuck was all that could be said to that.
On a positive note, the board of CMP had managed to elect itself. The year ahead in 2010, the teens, the tens, or whatever one wants to call them, looks as precarious as ever, but also as exciting as possible, as we head into the next round of economic and climactic cycles.
The snows and ice bring out the community spirit in people, hopefully the next decade will bring a renewed sense of we are all on this planet together (but can we let the bankers off somewhere?). Here's hoping.