(Oct. 2) AVONDALE, Pa. — Mushroom shippers in southeast Pennsylvania, where more than half of the country’s production is centered, are asking retailers to hold back on promotions throughout the rest of the year in the wake of storms that could cut production up to 20%.

The storms’ effects could be felt by the industry through Christmas, and shippers are predicting tight supplies during the holidays, a time when they usually see sales rise.

Brown, white and specialty mushrooms will be affected, and although growers put conservative estimates at 10% to 15% below normal supplies, they agree initial estimates might be low.

“Oyster mushrooms had a major problem (because) they were at a critical stage of production,” said Kevin Donovan, sales manager at Phillips Mushroom Farms, Kennett Square. “You may have some problems, especially with white mushrooms for Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

Production losses can be traced to two separate events.

Nine to 12 inches of rain fell in a period of several hours on Sept. 14, and four days later, Hurricane Isabel brought high winds that uprooted trees in the saturated ground and blew down utility lines, knocking out power for more than two days at some mushroom growing houses.

Without power to keep the mushrooms at a constant 65-68 degrees, the compost the mushrooms are grown on heats up and kills them, said Mike Reed, vice president of sales and marketing Country Fresh Marketing Co., Avondale.

Larger companies have backup generators, but smaller operations, many of them family-owned, supply larger shippers during peak demand times, including Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“This will cause some pricing pressure,” Reed said. “We’re not going to be aggressive on our ads and we’re holding tight, because we’re fearful we’re not going to be able to fill those orders.”

On Oct. 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported terminal market prices in Baltimore were steady, with 10-pound cartons of large whites $13.50-14 and $12 for smalls; $16-18 for 5-pound cartons of oysters; $8-9 for 5-pound cartons of portabellas and $16 for 5-pound cartons of class-1 extra-large shiitakes.

The USDA’s Market New Service reported prices on Oct. 1, 2002, in Baltimore were $12-14 for a 10-pound carton of large white mushrooms and $10 for a 10-pound carton of small whites; $18 for a 5-pound carton of oysters; $9 for 5-pound cartons of portabellas and $12-12.50 for 5-pound cartons of class-1 extra large shiitakes.
The deluge, which caused minor flooding and some immediate shipping problems, brought longer-term consequences for the growers, said Charlie Matthews, executive director of the Eastern Mushroom Marketing Cooperative.

Compost, a requirement for growing mushrooms, is made outdoors. The rain saturated the compost, and growers will be forced to use lower-quality compost in coming months.

“We’re continuously harvesting mushrooms, so you’re continuously planting mushrooms, putting in and taking out compost,” Matthews said. “This affects all stages of production. It was a fairly democratic, shall we say, power outage.”