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Materials and Resources Required for a Specialty Mushroom Industry in Georgia
Specialty mushroom production requires a combination of agricultural and forest products. It also requires a basic community infrastructure such as a steady source of electricity, natural gas/propane, water, access to transportation, communication networks, and educational training facilities. Human resources such as farm labor, as well as various types of equipment repair personnel, are also needed. The actual amount of these resources, of course, varies greatly with the size of the production facility.
No new product can accurately be assessed for its economic impact without first exploring the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the market (See Table 1). Georgia currently possesses numerous strengths for the successful development of a state-wide specialty mushroom industry. Most importantly, it has a well developed agricultural sector with a knowledgeable and committed technical support network. The presence of a large, growing, and diverse resident base is also an important factor in the market for fresh produce in general, and specialty mushrooms specifically. In addition, the necessary resources for a mushroom based industry are at least adequate and in most cases abundant in both rural and urban areas.
Since the proposed development is the creation of a new industry and not a transformation of an established operation, the existence of a specific mushroom based infrastructure is limited in the state. That is, with only a few mushrooms farms currently in operation the scale of current production is relatively small, along with weak marketing and distribution networking systems. The lack of product recognition, as well as a knowledgeable and loyal consumer base is a further shortcoming of this market not only in Georgia, but in all areas of the U.S.
The opportunities for this market to be successful in Georgia however, are extensive. Most importantly, the formation of appropriate public/private partnerships has produced beneficial results in the past, e.g., Vidalia Onions, and most recently, carrots. This demonstrates clear potential to create and develop the necessary marketing and production strategies. Further, the growth of markets complementary to both distributing and consuming specialty mushrooms cannot be understated. These include direct distribution, e-commerce, value added products, home replacement meals, organic produce, as well as the nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals markets.
The main threat to the development of a mushroom based industry
in Georgia is the existence of a well established large-scale
white button mushroom production in Pennsylvania. However, the
infrastructure in place is old and outdated. With the
state-of-the-art technological developments proposed for the
Georgia mushroom industry this would not be a long term problem.
In order to be successful, this effort will require the
coordinated activities of researchers in the university system,
retailers, and growers. In addition, without a well functioning
Commodity Commission that vigorously controls production, the
success of the industry is problematic. Implementing these
production controls will help eliminate the boom or bust cycle
that currently plagues agricultural enterprise primarily due to
Georgia currently has many of the necessary mushroom production infrastructure requirements already in place; however, in numerous rural areas, especially those designated by the Georgia Rural Development Council (GRDC) as Tier 1 counties, the human capital requirements are problematic (GRDC, 2001). The physical infrastructure requirements, such as electricity, natural gas, and surface transportation can easily be accommodated since mushroom growing houses do not require an unduly large amount of land, electricity, water, sewage, etc. typically associated with large scale developments. In addition, mushrooms do not require complex processing facilities, such as those in the poultry, livestock, or aquaculture industry. However, cultivating specialty mushrooms is an agricultural based enterprise that will require physical and human infrastructure improvements, especially if the production facilities are located in Tier 1 counties. The key benefits for investing in these human resource improvements are that the specialty mushroom industry will provide year round employment opportunities both in the agricultural sector and in the development of facilities that produce home replacement meals and other value added products.
A statistical profile of Georgia's Tier 1 counties is presented in Appendix D. The following characteristics are common to these counties. They have relatively low levels of population and most had more residents in the 1930's than they have today. During the 1990s these areas experienced relatively slow population growth. They tend to have a large African American population as well as a relatively high proportion of births to unwed mothers. In general, there is a relatively high dependency ratio. That is, compared to the number of residents of working age (18 to 64) there is a relatively large number of both children under 18 and people over 65.
In general, the residents of Tier 1 counties live in low-income households and are less educated compared with other counties in the state. Specifically, with only a few exceptions, Tier 1 counties' per capita income is below that of the state of Mississippi ($20,686), the lowest of any state in the nation. In every Tier 1 county the percentage of adults without a high school education exceeds the state average. In addition, the unemployment rate in these counties tends to be well above the state average (3.7 percent) and in most cases it is double. The housing stock consists of a large percentage of mobile homes and thus less available and affordable stick-built housing than other counties.
Successful economic development opportunities must take into
consideration the social, demographic, and cultural
characteristics of the local area. In particular, the labor force
may not be properly prepared for high tech jobs requiring
sophisticated skills. A job creation model that stresses the
production of already over-supplied agricultural commodities will
not work to create job opportunities in these disadvantaged Tier
1 counties. Instead, new products and value added commodities
must be developed. The socio-economic profile of Tier 1 counties
underscores the advantages of generating mushroom production
facilities accompanied by value added business development in
these areas. The start-up costs, labor needs, infrastructure
requirements, and suitability of the proposed development along
with the prevailing culture and customs of rural areas are
Hardwood sawdust, supplemented with grain and minerals, is the required growing medium for nearly all specialty mushrooms (See Appendix C). Typically small and large grain additives to this substrate are millet, corn and sorghum. Other agricultural by-products such as straw and manure are also used as growing mediums for mushroom spores. All of these products are abundant and readily available throughout Geogia (Georgia Agricultural Facts, 2001). Most of the latter constitute "waste" or "problem" by-products that exist in such large quantities that their disposal is a dilemma for farmers and businesses. The potential for specialty mushroom production turning "waste" products into commercially viable ones is significant. Due to the proliferation of these waste products in Georgia, increased investigation is warranted. Some examples of these waste products and their uses in the specialty mushroom industry follow.
Georgia has an abundant supply of hardwood sawdust, a forest industry by-product. In fact, in 1997, the Georgia Forestry commission indicated that 21 million cubic feet of hardwood sawdust was produced in this state. The sawdust is considered a waste material by wood product manufacturers. For example, TS Hardwoods (Milledgeville, Georgia), a producer of milled hardwood lumber, generates approximately 20,000 tons of sawdust annually. An estimated 13,000 tons of this output is oak sawdust. This company has two other mill locations, one in Georgia and the other in North Carolina (T.S. Hardwoods, personal communication, Nov 19, 2001). Removal of this waste product is considered a "problem" and the majority of the sawdust is sold for fuel. Hardwood (especially oak) sawdust, however, could become a sought-after commodity with the development of a viable mushroom industry in Georgia. The amount of oak sawdust produced by the Milledgeville, Georgia plant alone is more than adequate to supply the spawn making needs of the proposed new mushroom producing facilities in the state.
An additional economic benefit for using this industry by-product is that the sawdust first be sterilized before it is used in the spawn making process to ensure a pure culture. Sterilization eliminates other microbial species which are in competition with mushroom spores. The need for sterilization facilities would further add to the value of the by-product and create additional economic opportunities.
Other examples of the potential uses for agricultural by-products in the specialty mushroom industry can be seen in the cultivation of the Portabello variety of Agaricus and the Paddy Straw Mushroom. The Portabello is usually grown on a mixture of poultry litter and straw. Recently, Sanchez & Royse (2001) proposed a method to grow Portabello mushrooms on an oak sawdust based medium infused with grain. All of these products are available in abundance throughout the state.
The Paddy Straw Mushroom (Volvariella volvacea) is routinely used in Asian recipes and was traditionally grown on rice straw, hence its name. Although the yield was not high when rice straw was used as the substrate, it was the primary base material for many years. Other substrates such as dried banana leaves and oil palm bunch waste have been tried but have not been very successful. Thus, for a long time, this species was not very profitable as a commercial mushroom. It was not until 1970, when cotton waste was introduced as a substrate that a substantial gain in yield occurred. By 1973, cotton waste had completely replaced rice straw in commercial cultivation of this species in Hong Kong (Chang, 1974). This eventually lead to the Paddy Straw Mushroom becoming successfully commercialized in Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, and Indonesia (Wong, 2001).
Georgia has been a cotton producing state and cotton waste
remains a "problem." Recently, new products and by-products,
created from the disposal of the cotton waste have been created.
For example, cotton waste contains nutrients similar to
medium-quality hay, many Georgia cotton producers are now feeding
it to their cattle which saves the milling plant disposal costs
and gives farmers a source of cattle feed (USDA, 1996). If the
specialty mushroom industry were to use this agricultural "waste"
as an additional substrate, even greater use would be made of
this product. The cultivation of the Portabello, Paddy Straw and
other specialty mushrooms that can take advantage of these
agricultural by-products has the potential to produce a
commercially successful crop, create jobs, and assist with the
process of turning waste products into profitable agriculture for
the state of Georgia.
In general, mushroom farming is not significantly different than any other agricultural enterprise. The vegetable crop must be grown and harvested, and various management and labor aspects must be coordinated. Since commercial mushrooms are grown indoors however, careful control and monitoring of the environment is crucial. Successful mushroom cultivation depends on the ability to control potential contaminants, and thus it requires a "clean room" environment. Consequently, all workers must maintain good personal hygiene. Since the growing conditions for mushrooms are also ideal for the rapid growth of mold contaminants which can inhibit the mushroom crop and rapidly spread throughout the growing rooms, constant and informed attention to the emerging crop is required or rapid damage can occur. In addition, environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, light, air flow, etc.) need to be changed for different mushroom crops at various times in their maturation cycle. Therefore, the success of mushroom production is directly correlated with the degree of attention to the daily management of the growing rooms.
The proposed specialty mushroom industry would employ individuals at all skill and education levels. However, all production workers should be able to read at a high school level with good comprehensive skills. These "workers" perform the daily activities for mushroom cultivation. Jobs include harvesters, pickers, sanitation workers, block handlers, and packers. Depending on the size of the operation these jobs could be performed by a few individuals or one worker per duty. Ideally, in large operations, these jobs would be "rotated" among workers to enhance the knowledge of the overall growing process and operation of the facility. This not only improves efficiency and production, but also enables the workers to gain the necessary experience and new skills for job mobility. Due to the constant possibility of contamination, workers must wear "clean suits" and surgical gloves and exercise particular care when handling the mushrooms at all times since they are delicate and can be easily damaged.
The cultivation supervisor oversees the mushrooms, machinery, and workers. In general, this position requires knowledge of mushroom cropping, mechanical aptitude, and good interpersonal communication skills. This person must pay close attention to detail and have a knowledge of growing mushrooms. They must be able to recognize the proper appearance and timing of the mushroom crop as it matures, as well as recognize problems with abnormalities, contaminants and environmental conditions. If they are not able to respond quickly to correct a specific problem themselves they must request technical assistance. This may be accomplished though distance diagnosis or face-to-face meetings with a specialty mushroom consultant.
In order to run the day to day business operations of a mushroom farm, an office operations manager must be employed. This job involves general accounting, bookkeeping, and detailed crop record keeping. Basic computer skills with the ability to learn other computer programs is also needed. Knowledge of an appropriate word processing package and the ability to operate in a Windows environment is necessary. Access to web based information systems and distance diagnosis is also mandatory. The office manager must effectively manage and prioritize the workload, and keep detailed records and farm files. The general manager of the mushroom farm may, or may not, be the owner. This individual oversees the overall day-to-day operation. In addition, they would also be responsible for general promotion, marketing, and distribution.
Finally, a mushroom growing operation must have a general
maintenance worker either on site or available when needed. This
person must have the ability to diagnose malfunctions in
mechanical and other equipment and to determine adequate
corrective measures. Skill with hand and power tools is
necessary. Other needed personnel, such as drivers, generally
would be employed on a contractual basis. One of the intangible
elements associated with having "good labor" for a mushroom
production facility is to employee people who have an interest in
either mushrooms or horticulture. Workers who possess this
characteristic appear to be more motivated and are willing to
take the necessary training to become knowledgeable about the
challenges associated with cultivating specialty mushrooms
(Personal Communications with Bob Johns, The Growing
In order to get started in the specialty mushroom business, a
grower will need the following:
© 2002. Department of Housing and Consumer Economics, College of Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Georgia. All rights reserved.
Contact: Douglas C. Bachtel, Professor. Website by Carole Wheeler - Shabba Classic.