Automated Equipment for Mushroom Production: The Way of the Future?
By Chris Bailey
Approximately 20 years ago, we decided to begin offering the mushroom growing community an opportunity to increase its production capacity and consistency by providing them with machinery to assist in several parts of the process. A viewing of the video production on our website shows much of this equipment in one particular system designed around growing mushrooms in small bottles. Similar equipment is available that is based on growing from the more popular method of growing in plastic bags full of the nutritious “soil” that mushrooms digest.
Back then, we predicted that this was the “Way of the Future”. Indeed, the specialty mushroom industry has seen many changes. The volume of product out there is many times greater. Most people know what shiitake and oyster mushrooms are, and have perhaps even eaten them – if not at home, then at a restaurant. But from a farm production standpoint, the majority of farmers still do things by hand. At first, it’s a toiling labor of love. But it gets old pretty quickly. Sadly, many farmers are not aware of the options that are available in equipment that would make their lives easier, improve the consistency and quality of their mushrooms and allow them to do more of what they love: growing mushrooms.
The typical mushroom growing process involves blending a special formula of ingredients such as wood, wheat and water, filling containers/bags with this blend, cooking it to kill off microorganisms, inoculating the medium with spawn (mushroom seed) and then allowing the spawn to grow, consuming the medium along the way to maturity. There is equipment available that can perform laborsome tasks at each of these stages.
The productivity of a single bag filler can increase efficiency many fold. A standard farm team of 2 can fill and prepare 120-180 bags in an hour. An automated machine can do the same job with only one person in less than half the time. As our facilities manager at our Michigan farm likes to say, “It shows up for work every day.” Every bag it fills is nearly identical to the last, and that spells “consistency”. Customers are not particularly understanding when they call and the farm is out of mushrooms. With a consistent production system, farmers can better predict the timing of their crops.
There are still a mountain of variables that farmers must pay attention to. Some of them are well understood, while others often seem elusive ghosts that we chase. Those ghosts make up what we call the “art” of growing. It’s basically stuff we don’t understand – yet. The more variables we can eliminate, the better we can focus on the ghosts. Equipment can be a HUGE help in that.
I love the passion that small farmers have. It’s infectious to hear them excitedly speak about the magic of mushrooms at farmers markets across the nation. My hope for them is to continue to keep that passion 4 or 5 years into it – without the hamperings of a sore back!