A worker checks mushrooms for Monterey Mushrooms. Growers have been experiencing challenges due to a heat wave in the Northeast as well as an increase in demand.
A worker checks mushrooms for Monterey Mushrooms. Growers have been experiencing challenges due to a heat wave in the Northeast as well as an increase in demand.

Mushroom sales have been strong lately, and grower-shippers hope they’ll stay that way despite a spate of hot weather in Pennsylvania.

“We’re going through a heat wave here like crazy,” Fred Recchiuti, general manager at Basciani Mushroom Farms, Avondale, Pa., said in mid-July.

Temperatures ranged from 90 degrees to 96 degrees every day from July 14 through July 20.

Without sufficient air conditioning, mushrooms face reduced yields and lower quality. In some cases they can be subjected to “thermal runaway," which can result in total crop loss, Recchiuti said.

“That’s a precarious precipice you don’t want to go over.”

Basciani Mushroom Farms has the ability to add air conditioning capacity, he said, but that can dramatically increase the cost per pound.

It could be mid-August before the impact of the heat wave is felt through tighter supplies and possibly lower quality, he said.

Paul Frederic, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Avondale-based To-Jo Mushrooms, said the hot weather did not affect crops, but 95-degree days could have an impact on compost that is prepared outdoors.

“It makes everything a little bit more challenging,” he said.

A heat wave is more likely to affect production than quality, he added.

Reduction in yields could result because high outdoor temperatures and dry conditions can affect the process to produce the substrate to be used in the coming weeks or months to grow mushrooms, said Laura Phelps, president of the American Mushroom Institute, Washington, D.C.


Demand continues to grow

Meanwhile, the demand for mushrooms is widely evident in the total shipment growth that reached record highs in 2012 and is off to an impressive first half in 2013, said Kathleen Preis, marketing coordinator for the Mushroom Council, San Jose, Calif.

Shipments have increased about 4% this year, she said.

“If this impressive progress continues throughout the year, the mushroom industry will realize the greatest annual shipment increment in history and per capita consumption would reach yet another all-time high,” she said.

Summer mushroom sales have been strong, said Joe Caldwell, vice president at Watsonville, Calif.-based Monterey Mushrooms.

Rising costs and flat pricing have forced a couple more producers out of business, and the industry capacity hasn’t grown enough to cover those losses plus the 25 million-pound growth in annual demand we’ve seen the past several years, he said.

“I would expect to see prices move up even as the industry struggles to meet the projected demand for the holiday season,” Caldwell said.

Meanwhile, business is “terrific” at Gourmet Mushrooms Inc., Sebastopol, Calif., said Meg Hill, director of sales and marketing.

Sales are up compared with last year, have doubled over the past five years, and could double again, she said.

She attributes the sales burst to consumers discovering the savory quality of the firm’s gourmet mushrooms, along with the Mushroom Council’s “swapability” program, in which chefs or homemakers swap mushrooms for meat as they prepare meals.

The best may be yet to come, she said, since the third and fourth quarters typically are the company’s strongest sales periods.

The good news for the mushroom industry is that demand continues to increase, especially for the brown or crimini varieties, said Bill St. John, sales and transportation manager for Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farms Inc., Gonzales, Texas.

The bad news is that prices are remaining stable or even dropping at a time when the costs of compost, wheat straw, packaging and personnel are on the rise and “a real concern,” he said.