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The Irish Mushroom Industry: An Interview with Donal Gernon

Donal Gernon, Teagasc
UMDIS PARTNERS

This post is also available in: English Russian Polish

The Irish mushroom industry has undergone significant transformations in the past decades, facing challenges ranging from labour shortages to environmental concerns. In a recent interview with Donal Gernon, a mushroom adviser from Teagasc, Ireland, we gained valuable insights into the current state of the industry and the innovative measures being taken to address emerging issues.

Donal Gernon revealed that there are currently 32 mushroom farms in Republic of Ireland, that belong to 28 individual growers, as some own multiple farms. In Northern Ireland another 12 farms operate. The number of growers and production units has declined over the past decade as small farms ceased production, while larger farms continued to expand to ensure they remained sustainable.

All growers in Ireland, both north and south, are part of producer organizations. These organizations enable growers to access grant money for machinery and equipment. EU subsidizes 50% of new equipment cost. Growers from Republic of Ireland can also avail of 40% grant aid through the Horticulture Grant Scheme. Also, growers are encouraged to adopt energy-efficient practices, such as solar panels and biomass boilers. Subsidies of up to 80% are available for projects that improve energy efficiency by 15% or more through the On Farm Investment Scheme with their Producer Organisation.

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Producer organisations are responsible not only about managing grants. All production planning, raw material supply, marketing and sales are done involving PO. This makes life of individual farmers much easier because they can concentrate their efforts mainly on growing process. Farms in general as part of PO are not allowed offer produce to market directly but from the other side concentrated sales makes market more predictable and stable.

There are 2 compost yards in Republic of Ireland – Carbury Compost (Monaghan Mushrooms) and Custom Compost (Walsh Mushrooms) and another 2 in Northern Ireland – Northway Substrate and Cabragh Mushroom Compost.

The mushroom production in Ireland reaching around 68,000 tons per year with farm-gate value approximately 130 million euro. Notably, close to 85% of these mushrooms are exported to the UK, making Ireland heavily reliant on the British market. Mushrooms account for almost 50% of total Irish horticultural export value.

Number one challenge for industry now is labour, says Donal Gernon. Recruiting and retaining people is the biggest problem. Most of workers on mushroom farms are foreign national that come from various countries in Europe such as Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine. In more recent times, Irish growers have employed people from Asian countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, and many others.

Labour is getting more and more expensive with recent increase of minimum hourly rates increased to €12,70 euro per hour in 2024 from €11.30 in 2023 and €10.50 in 2022.
Irish mushroom industry closely follows the development of robotic solutions in harvesting and when these solutions become feasible, we can expect high demand on them in this country.

Another challenge for industry is peat, the main ingredient of casing soil that used in mushroom production. Irish peat is very suitable for mushroom growing and well-known not only in Ireland but exported in many countries. There are three suppliers of casing soil in Ireland, but due to environmental concerns government constantly limiting access to peat bogs and there are chances that peat extraction will be completely banned in the end of the day. In addition to government restrictions, UK supermarkets chains also pushing industry to eliminate peat consumption by 2030.

The industry is exploring peat-free mixes, and Gernon is optimistic about their potential success. “Years ago, I was really sceptical about peat-free casing, but now we have really promising solutions and I believe it will be possible to grow mushrooms without peat”, says Donal Gernon.

Organic mushroom category in Ireland is growing slowly, only 2-3% of farms are currently involved. Donal Gernon pointed out that the shift towards organics has been gradual, with a few growers embracing this approach.

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