With the first decade of the new century firmly behind us, we can look back on 2010 as a year of change and uncertainty. Having come though the stormy waters of economic recession, banking and building sector meltdown, we may now have some more fixed view of the turmoil. Some called 2010 an annus horribilis, others saw the beginnings of the new order emerging. Who knows where 2011 will lead us.
January was a quiet month as usual, recovering from the extreme icy conditions, there wasn’t much news on the ground, and people weren’t really coming or going too much if they didn’t have to. On the global level there was a new force in mushroom media with the creation of Global Roel Media, the force behind the new look Mushroom Business Magazine. Scully Grower Supplies were seeing salt as the biggest seller during the big freeze, which was unsurprising. Demand for mushrooms was reportedly strong and the price of oil was on the way up again. Teagasc were giving tips on how to deal with flooding, advice that could be useful this year too! And the perfect English breakfast was complemented with Portobello mushrooms according to Country Life magazine. The Irish Times reported on maitake mushrooms as a potential cure for various cancers. As ever, caution on believing all claims for mushrooms had to be sounded too – however there does seem to be more and more research from well regarded institutions regarding the efficacy of different mushrooms in various forms in fighting tumorous growths. Some might ask, are mushrooms actually magic.
News reports indicated that mushroom production was holding up well in the USA despite the recessionary forces. There was movement in the French mushroom market as Bonduelle were in talks with France Champignon. And there was news of a new TV programme set on a mushroom farm in Hungary – whether the show was watchable or not, has never been discerned.
JFM were offering Eco Quilt tunnel insulation, Des Harding was the man advertising a full construction service if you needed it, there were specialised extrusions on offer from David Totten and ChristIaens Group were advertising their combined experience to suit any project , big or small. Finally there was an item on whether or not you should wash mushrooms – in the end it probably comes down to preference, but the article concluded on a verdict to wash.
Fast Forward to February, Bord Bia were speed dating and launching a renewed export drive for Irish food and drink. NAMA got a mention, but only as it was the acronym for the North American Mushroom Association. SIPTU were campaigning against any proposed pay cuts, as we all know manys a cut came about despite the protests. Illegally dumped mushroom waste in Tyrone hit the news locally too, as did the waste success story of NWP. Internationally Taiwan were protesting against Chinese Mushrooms And China was investing in a mushroom feasibility project in Fiji. As the ever growing economic and global might of China came into sharper focus throughout the year, the shift in world power is evident in the mushroom world as it is in the wider world.
Making the notes in Feb was news of the upcoming South African Conference organised by SAMFA, there was a healthy Irish contingent heading out to that event. The Dutch picking robot project got a mention too as the Methore website had news of new advances. Monaghan’s revamped website also caught the eye, as did news of the threat to the Kinsealy Research Centre. There was news of a new supermarket code of practice in the UK, and mushrooms to help combat flu. Also the Mush Comb website was revamped and was chock full of new info and new deals. Gold discovery in Armagh glistered as did the fact that mushrooms are the golden bullet for getting that boost of Vitamin D that is necessary to stave of rickets and such like ailments. The anti-sun message has penetrated so much into society that diseases of yesteryear are making comebacks, and mushrooms are hailed as boosters of Vitamin D which is implicated in a host of problems if it is deficient in the body. From cognitive function to a healthy heart – mushrooms enhanced with vitamin D, like the Monterey Sun Bella are the new manna from heaven, apparently.
March galloped in with more news and photos of the previous month’s South African conference. The word was that everyone was wearing orange cowboy hats and having a great time. Goldshield Mushrooms were making a strong promotion of their wares launching their brand of mushrooms into the marketplace – Kerrigans Mushrooms. In the notes, demand for the produce was reported as being good on the markets, fly control was on the mind of growers coming into springtime, the minister for food and horticulture in the south Trevor Sargent, who had been vocal in supporting the Kinsealy Research Centre, was out the door. There was news of a new grocery sector code for the South in the offing. The Codd boys were in expansionist mode down the country in Co. Carlow, and Tommy and Theresa Dillon were celebrating the birth of little Ruby, another wee grandchild for them. Fancom launched a new 767 watering control system onto the mushroom market; there was news on CGI mushrooms and CSI mushrooms; news on leprechauns and koalas; talk of square mushrooms; and news of a decline in jobs in Irish agriculture.
The IFA were against any change in the role of food promotion and experts in the UK were debating the link of health to fresh produce. More recently Stalker has read top UK scientists declare that consumption of fresh produce cannot be claimed to promote protection against cancers – he maintained that the only provable ways to protect against cancers are to stop smoking and to limit alcohol intake – good advice.
A strategy group was being set up in Ireland for the agri-food, forestry and fishery sectors – information available at www.agriculture.gov.ie/2020/. The mushroom bureau in the UK was unveiling an integrated campaign – Mushrooms Make Sense. And there was a report on the call, to phase out peat in compost material in the UK, primarily for the horticulture sector.
April advanced without any April fools items, although some might have been tempted to think that the proposed staff redundancies at Warwick HRI were a bit of a joke, which they turned out not to be! JFM were offering “The Tunnel Package” on the front page. News of another mushroom industry conference at Penn State in the U.S. An EU survey found that nearly half of the Irish population say that agriculture in important, that was an increase of 10%. The Atlantic Mushrooms site was up for lease. AHS, Advanced Handling Systems were offering efficient and effective solutions to conveyor belt needs. The Amycel method of enhancing Vitamin D levels in mushrooms was reviewed. Also the startling news that scientists had decoded the DNA of the black Périgord truffle. A major promotion for Irish mushrooms aimed at young women in the British market, got underway. The campaign was organised by the Mushroom Bureau with the cost being shared by Bord Bia. And the finalists of the quality commitment awards were announced, and they included Kerrigans Mushrooms.
In notes, Mush Comb had launched a new website at www.mushroomfarm.nl, focusing on offering complete second-hand mushroom farms. The volcanic ash cloud spewing from Mount Eyjafjallajökull was causing chaos in the skies. Scully’s were promoting fly control, and Japanese researchers had discovered that jolting mushrooms with electricity was helping to double yields. The revamped Mushroom Bureau website at www.mushroom-uk.com got a mention; and readers got their first taste of Mushroom Bob Reports. Jennifer Anniston mushroom soup versus a Mushroom Cappuccino was the culinary battle of the month. The September 2011 6th Medical Mushroom conference, to be held in Zagreb, also got an early mention.
Entering the mix in May was a newcomer advertising in the magazine, Irelands Conveyors – the company offers competitive supplies of advanced conveyor components. News of a mushroom plant set to close because of the carbon tax was the story from FreshInfo, as Drimbawn Mushrooms in Belmullet was reported to be shutting. Readers of the magazine had already been aware that the company site was up for lease. Food packaging prices were set to soar according to a report from packagingnews.co.uk, as raw material costs were escalating. Canadian students were reportedly stunned by the disease fighting capabilities of mushrooms, following a University assignment to study the humble produce. Also in the news was the bulldozing in preparation for building work at the Yukiguni Maitake mushroom plant site in Wurtsboro USA. A 10 year planning battle had been won by the company. News of the Belmullet story headed the notes, with further noting of the carbon tax impacts on industry and families. The tax which came into effect on May 1st impacted heavily in the South. Tandragee Compost got a new Bobcat S175; Donegal creameries profits were up, and news from the USA about the industry there being regarded as a billion dollar industry. One PSU prof estimated that the US mushroom industry had a $2.17bn impact on the domestic economy there. Countryfile, the popular BBC ag-mag show featured mushrooms being grown up in the Welsh hills. And McDon had a new Tech man on board, the well known Martin Doyle.
Jumping straight into June, there was more news on the Bord Bia campaign to promote mushrooms in the UK. Minister for agriculture Brendan Smith welcomed the EU proposal to approve €1.3 million in funding towards the €2.6 million promotion. UCC and Teagasc announced a food research agreement. The agreement enhances the collaboration between the university and the agriculture development body, sharing resources and working on joint programmes. There was more news from Monaghan Mushrooms about the transfer of production from Belmullet to the new state of the art mushroom farm at Tyholland. Also there was news of an African project aiming to promote the cultivation of edible and medicinal fungi on the continent. An obituary was carried for Professor C Terence Ingold, recognised as a foremost authority on the study of fungi. The professor had been working in the field for over eight decades and was born In Belfast in 1905.
A study into how mushroom hunters in small Mexican village went about their task formed the basis of a piece that concluded that men were basically a big waste of time. A lot of female readers liked that one! And there was a report on the Australian Mushroom Industry with special interest in the new Adelaide Mushrooms venture at Monarto. As Doug Schirripa put it: “I think it is amazing... anything that grows from nothing, you know, I think it is a beautiful part of life.” He was talking about his mushrooms there.
In the notes, there was news of the Kinsealy Research Centre relocating to the Teagasc campus at Ashtown in Dublin 7. The new Tyholland facility was noted as being the biggest mushroom production unit in Ireland, apparently. Green Energy Technology received a mention as they were supplying wood pellet and wood chip boilers to mushroom houses across Ireland. There was news on the use of disinfectants and pesticide training. And there was an oddity reported from the US that suggested that supermarket lighting could enhance the vitamin content of fresh vegetables. Then there were mycoplasms - it was reported Craig Venter had used them to create a new form of life! And there was a monetary value put on natural eco-systems and their worth to the human race - $40 trillion - seemed a bit on the low side to Stalker. Mushroom Bob reported that Matthew Holtermans was the first to deliver a head-filling machine to Ireland and that Mush Comb was the original inventor of 1.20m shelving. Interesting morsels for digestion there.
Jauntily moving into the “real” summer month of July, there was news of a breakthrough in edible mushrooms by Hefestus proprietary technology, claiming to triple the shelf life of edible mushrooms. The method involves vacuum packing, and has the acronym SLB – Shelf Life Booster. The agri-food industry could grow by a third according to the report from the Food harvest 2020 group. Job creation was also mooted with the prospect of 4,000 jobs being created over the coming decade. Going green was also a strong theme of the 2020 report. In the UK villagers living in Wath near Ripon were demanding an inquiry into the plans of multi-million pounds expansion at Greyfriars. Saving food miles by the millions and creating 60 new jobs was the overriding concern of Chairman John Smith. There was news of a new HDC publication called Mushrooms Review to summarise the latest research for growers in the UK. And there was a consultation letter published on the upcoming Nitrates Action Programme in Northern Ireland.
Abroad, there was news that the rare and costly Japanese mushroom the hon-shimeji had been found growing wild in Sweden. At a cost of $450 per pound there could be some fantastic foraging done in the forests of Sweden. There was news of Monterey’s mushroom patent in the US. The Patents.com website was offering legal and industry expertise so that “you too can bring biotech- related invention to market.”
Following the news of disinfectants use on farm in the previous month, mushroom farm disinfection was the main focus of an article by Frank Parker and Stuart Whitehall of Nutrigain Ltd. SporeKill with its unique product mechanism was explained in full detail for growers to make sure that there was no confusion in how it works.
For a quiet summer month there was as usual not much making the notes. The Mushroom Bureau £2.2 million campaign over 3 years in the UK was noted. There was news of David Totten out in China. Ulster Scots got a touch in relation to the Draft Nitrates proposals – the fact that there was a summary available in that dialect was a source of mirth. Mush Comb were now official suppliers of ChampCorr – the perfect weighing system by all accounts. AHS were offering 24 hour breakdown cover, and the virtues of vitamin D were being extolled once more – good for brain function, reducing arthritis, osteoporotic fractures, as well as for heart disease and some cancers. In other news DEFRA was scrapping the agricultural wages board, and accusations of Bord Bia bias against NI products was rejected.
Adjusting to the non-summer in August, there was a crisis in the wheat sector that was threatening to push mushroom prices up. One insider said that UK mushroom growers could be seeking price increases of up to 20% to remain viable. The big news on the Irish mushroom scene was the official opening of the Tyholland Mushroom Limited facility on the 16th. The opening was attended by minister of state Brendan Smith, along with the news that 150 jobs were being created. That figure of job creation came in for a bit of scrutiny later on. A new research and development lab was also unveiled, which hopefully helped secure the future of R&D in the industry, along with close tie ups with AFBI in Loughgall and other universities throughout Ireland.
The agri-food and biosciences Institute AFBI also had a press release out about their new investment in innovative research and development alongside Monaghan Mushrooms and Mc Don Mushroom Casing. Mairead Kilpatrick said: “This type of Industry-Science collaboration is the most effective way forward for all.” John Collier for Monaghan said that “we have always believed that an investment in R&D will shape our future.” And Jim Mc Court at McDon said: “We are confident that this collaboration with AFBI will further strengthen our ability to achieve the objective of ensuring best quality casing is available, to provide the grower with highest yields and mushroom quality possible.” News from the end of the previous month that AFBI’s future was threatened by the new UK Coalition Government cuts was hopefully superseded by the news tie-up with Monaghan and McDon.
In other news there was the story from Germany of the falcon breeder who was claiming that pollution from a mushroom farm was killing his birds. There was a quick jook at the etymology of the word mushroom and the word fungus. There was news of the “gold rush” on the Tibetan plateau in search of the caterpillar fungus, sometimes known as “Himalayan Viagra”. Subsequent stories on this subject throughout the year took a more murderous twist. There was happier news from the USA on the subject of mushroom based packaging being used as it was more than 98% more energy efficient than Styrofoam to create. As the main guys put it, it’s low-tech biotechnology, but it is genetic manipulation nonetheless.
Noteworthy elements included a new babby for Amycel rep Kieran Smyth and his wife Michelle. Irelands Conveyors were notably called in to action to make sure the Tyholland facility was operating properly on official opening day- talk of cleats and head-filling ability were the buzz words. Agflation got a mention – basically agriculture prices on the up causing prices to rise in all spheres. There was talk of securing hay in the UK as Thames Valley police investigated a spate of thefts. Cereal offenders got a mention. The upcoming 2012 Olympics got a look in, with talk of how to supply the Games being a logistical nightmare. And July received a mention for being the wettest in 60 years. June had been the warmest in 40 years.
September slid in with news of a rebranding call for mushrooms in the UK. Ireland’s biggest mushroom firms teamed up to encourage UK consumers to regard Irish mushrooms as local and not foreign. Monaghan, Breffni, Walsh and CMP were all involved in the campaign. There was a piece on Generic PR being problematic for promoting the mushrooms. The slogan Mushrooms Make the Meal stood out, and had anyone ever heard of the Monty Mushroom character?
Suffolk Mushrooms were making the news columns with a £300K grant from the East of England Development Agency – a nice wedge to help get the business booming again. A study was aired that preliminary research suggested that mushrooms can help prevent obesity. Low- energy food like mushrooms substituting for meat seemed to be the key; a 4 oz. Portabella mushroom for a 4 oz. grilled hamburger was the trade off. Stalker would wonder why one couldn’t have both? There was local news of a challenge to the Rose Energy proposed power station and of an unfair dismissal for a mushroom picker.
There was more on the Monterey Mushroom project of boosting the vitamin D in their mushrooms Ergothioneine was a new buzz word, an important anti-oxidant, is a naturally-occurring amino acid, and it is found in abundant quantities in mushrooms. In the USA mushroom production was lower in 2009-10 according to thepacker.com And there was news that 18 people had died while out picking mushrooms in Italy – turns out it was inhospitable terrain rather than the mushrooms that killed them.
Making the notes was Unimush man Seamus Cassidy, who walked onto the UTV show The Fabulous Food Adventure and told Barry McGuigan “I’m the mushroom man.” The new babby chez Smyth was named Cian. The dodgiest note title of the year was carried – Poo Power Poo-pooed re the Rose Energy debacle. Stalker learned that Monaghan Mushrooms was apparently the second biggest mushroom producer in the world. The Tyholland job numbers game came into focus again. US national mushroom month got a mention. There were hints of Irish firms sourcing compost abroad for whatever reasons. Straw prices on the up was noted once again. There was talk of the old prison farm in Wyoming being reopened, sans prisoners.
Vertical farming, as opposed to horizontal snoozing, garnered a mention; as did urine for fuel purposes, one kids thee not; and some top economists were balking at the cuts being imposed on the Irish people. That cookie is still crumbling.
October opened with an interview with the mushroom manager from Dole Mushrooms in the US, Gary Schroeder and the beaming visages of JFM’s Brendan McKenna and Malard Mushrooms Mohammed Reza Mirzadeh, who had been enjoying the recent Mushroom conference on Perth, Australia. The Oz conference made top note too as a photograph of Martin McCourt atop a veritable Hog of a motorbike graced the pages. Web readers had the title Pretty In Pink as the Martin was adorned in pink outfit denoting the cancer charity that was being promoted via the conference. McDon Casing had also made a substantial charitable contribution to the cause. Back home on the greener terra firma of Ireland there were grumblings about bale sizes – 8x4x4 versus 7x4x4. After the dodgy summer there was some dodgy dealing going on with the straw apparently. Suffolk Mushrooms, now part of the Walsh Group, were advertising for positions, while Stalker was thinking of Suffolk ale – Adnams, the best bitter on that side of Blighty. There was talk of the Autumn Dip and ongoing development at the Monaghan site Carbury, Co. Kildare. Quinoa got a mention, and there was some chat about the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England – (how did that get in there? Ed..) Foul golf strokes for hitting mushrooms was mentioned , as was the gold nugget rush in Co. Armagh. The upcoming Olympics were being touted by the Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment in the South as somewhere to bid for contracts – seems like the mass migration of Irish workers to the UK is happening just in time for the Games too. A small item claimed that new leadership was needed for the agri-food industry in the South.
Nigel Slater’s big recipe for mushroom breakfast flats included that quintessential ingredient quinoa. There was a reported mushroom theft from the Prince of Wales’s grounds of Birkhall in Balmoral – two pensioners were apprehended for stealing royal mushrooms. It all seemed rather un-regal and over the top. The deadly Death Cap mushrooms got a look in when they were consumed by a 12 year old girl – luckily she managed to avoid the grim reaper who normally clears up after ingestion of the Death Cap. In that item the ministry for mushrooms was mooted – not at all a bad idea.
The opening of Adelaide Mushrooms new Phase 3 growing rooms was featured in photographs. One of the images really gave the impression of what a different scale the new farm was on. Farm owner Doug Schirripa looked very happy in all the shots.
The word from New Zealand however, was of job losses at Meadow Mushrooms, with potentially 160 job losses. In Perth Scotland where was news of school pupils digging up unusual truffles, not the usual Scottish summer truffle. Back home and Goldshield Mushrooms were celebrating the wedding of Karen Kerrigan to Kevin Devine. Talk of mice heading in for the winter gave pause for thought, as the extinction of the Harvest Mouse in the UK was said to be on the cards with numbers plummeting, probably due to farming methods.
And an odd piece about a group of mums who reported alien rings at a playground, only for them to be identified as fairy rings of mushrooms. You couldn’t make it up; not one for the X-Files.
Nudging gingerly into November, there were fears over a rise in poisonings due to rogue fungi and rogue pickers in the wild, in the UK. Government websites were giving out information on foraging do’s and don’ts. There was a fuller report on the opening of Shosoni Mushroom Farm, now renamed Rocky Mountain Mushrooms. The e buzz word, ergothioneine was getting a mention too, and the potassium levels of mushrooms compared to oranges was noted to be favourable. A rare winter Stalkball mushroom was rediscovered in Nottinghamshire, and Katy Perry’s (who she, ed.) top diet tip was mushrooms. There was news of a new Scientific Analysis Laboratory – thus named – and operating out of Cambridge UK. The US Mushroom sector was seeing a recovery in sales according to thepacker.com. BeckerUnderwood were in acquisition mode, buying up a South African based biological control products company.
In Ireland, the Taoiseach was assuring farmers that noting would be done in the budget to damage productive sectors like agriculture; while a report on EU subsidies hinted at Irish agriculture losing up to €200m in European subsidies. There was also a photograph of a mushroom florescence that looked ever so brain like.
Making the notes was the news of the cuts and redundancies at Warwick HRI – some really top notch mushroom scientists were having to find new environments to continue their world renowned research. In Northern Ireland it seemed like AFBI at Loughgall had been spared the worst, as unofficially at least, closure was no longer an option being considered. There was news of the upcoming PhD from Francisco Arqueros which examines aspects of the Irish mushroom industry and workers rights. The Autumn Dip was replaced by the Autumn Dump, with news of excretephore behaviour by arboreal leaves. UK Met office reports indicated we were in for a mild spell over winter – oops. In January 2011 it transpires that the Met did not want to put out extreme cold weather warnings for fear of getting it wrong – oops again! The amateur Donegal weatherman Michael Gallagher was predicting a really cold winter – now in January he is predicting that the cold snap is far from over and that there’ll be plenty more snow before we put this winter behind us.
Decidedly sliding into December on the ice that would bear a duck – there was news of a £10m investment happening at Sussex Mushrooms according to reports by the Fresh Produce Journal. Stalker seemed to remember that several years ago the same amount was reportedly being invested at Sussex. The top note was a happy one, concerning the installation of Dr Kerry Burton at East Malling Research. Noteworthy news from Holland from Mush Comb followed, with a third way to invest in mushroom machinery being unveiled. There was also a promotional note about pan European advertising on Mushrooms originating from The Netherlands – the poster was very brainy! John Smith at Greyfriars was threatening to move operations according to the Yorkshire Post if planning permission was not granted for the expansion at Wath. The extreme weather was hitting every aspect of life in the country, and the mushroom industry was no exception. Keeping roads into and out of farms open for deliveries and pick-ups was proving to be a major headache. Also in Scotland, where some of the heaviest snowfalls occurred, at least one Monaghan Mushrooms operation was reportedly impacted by the weight of snow on tunnel roofs. And the news that 2010 was set to be the hottest on record was hard to stomach.
Some potentially good news brightened the end of year with a report that now was a good time to invest in the Mushroom Trade. In the North the NIFDA was forecasting that 15,000 new jobs could be created in the agri-food sector.
So not all gloom and doom out there heading into the New Year, and depending on your viewpoint, the new decade. However as the cold weather threatens a return, and as VAT rates and oil prices go up, the glimmers of light seem a bit dimmer. 2011 promises to be a year of austerity, but hopefully it will also be one of incipient prosperity for the whole of Ireland and the UK.