Specialty Mushrooms in Agroforestry
Specialty and gourmet mushroom production is a promising component of the Center’s forest farming research dimension. In fact, UMCA supports one of only two research programs in the nation working to develop the premium, high-dollar European black truffle as a forest farming crop for landowners, and is finding that this gourmet mushroom grows well in Missouri soil. Research is also being conducted to develop morel, shiitake and other gourmet mushrooms into profitable agroforestry crops in a forest farming practice.
Forest farming, one of the five agroforestry practices, can enhance and diversify farm income opportunities, while at the same time making significant improvements to the composition and structure of the forest for long-term improvements in overall health, quality and economic value. By developing an understanding of the interactions between the overstory trees and the understory environment, forest management activities can be used to create an understory capable of growing profitable shade-loving crops — such as gourmet mushrooms.
Not only can specialty mushrooms be grown on a range of acreage allotments, mushroom cultivation is a sustainable and profitable way to recycle low-value forestry by-products, including non-merchantable stems and branch wood. Utilizing shade levels and understory from a forest farming practice, UMCA scientists and collaborators are determining the best suited types of mushrooms for Missouri soils. The goal of this research is to refine established production techniques for a diverse suite of outdoor mushroom species and enable Missouri landowners to capture a growing gourmet market
Specialty Mushroom Workshops
Through international collaborations and information exchanges, and programs close to home — including a series of guidesheets and annual Specialty Mushroom Workshops — the Center continues to accumulate a practical, scientifically-sound knowledge base for the benefit of Missouri landowners who are entering the specialty mushroom market. More than 40 participants from across the Midwest attended the February 2006 workshop, designed to teach the basics of production and/or marketing techniques for specialty gourmet mushrooms, including shiitake, oyster and Stropharia. University of Missouri research faculty members, professional mushroom growers and marketers provided participants the knowledge and skills needed to get started growing and marketing mushrooms. A hands-on tour of the mushroom cultivation sites at the MU Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center, New Franklin, Mo., featured demonstrations of UMCA current research and explored the steps involved in growing mushrooms in a forest farming setting.
Shiitake Mushroom Success Story
One of the state’s most significant demonstrations of a successful forest farming practice is Dan Hellmuth and Nicola Macpherson’s Ozark Forest Mushrooms, Timber, Mo. The entrepreneurial couple established the specialty mushroom operation in 1990 on what was then a timber operation, and coordinate every step of the value-added process, from the inoculated log to packaged, consumer-friendly products. Under the guidelines of the Stewardship Incentive Program, administered by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), Hellmuth and Macpherson harvest a renewable supply of mushroom bed logs while simultaneously maintaining their forested acres in a healthy ecological state – and what began 14 years ago with only 100 oak logs in production has grown to include 12,000 shiitake logs in production.
A new greenhouse with a wood furnace for burning spent/culled shiitake logs has been completed for researching mushroom cultivation during the cold season and sustainable usage of wood resources. Packaged products marketed by Ozark Forest Mushrooms include dried and fresh shiitakes, oyster mushrooms, and seasoned mushroom meal mixes featuring Asian and Indian influences
It’s hard work that doesn’t stop,” Macpherson said, “but when I walk into a restaurant and see my mushrooms on the menu, or walk into a supermarket and see our products on the shelf, that gives me huge pleasure and makes all the work worthwhile.