( Courtesy AMI )

Hundreds of mushroom industry growers, business leaders and researchers will gather in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 14-16 for the 25th North American Mushroom Conference.

The conference brings together industry stakeholders from North America and around the world for discussions and educational sessions on issues affecting the mushroom industry, according to a news release. This year’s theme, Growing a Brighter Future, highlights innovations and advances in the industry and what mushroom businesses can expect in the future. The American Mushroom Institute is the conference host.

“This conference will address current trends in the industry and ways to help position businesses for the future,” Dan Leo, conference chairman, said in the release. “From harvesting robotics to consumer trends to production research, the program features a variety of topics with tangible take-aways to bring back to businesses.”

Consumer demand for mushrooms has continued to increase over the past few years. A key driver — and indicator — of this demand is the growing positive sentiment around mushroom nutrition, sustainability and flavor benefits, according to the release. Colleen McClellan, director of food marketing research firm Datassential, will speak on two consumer-themed topics: social pressures, what consumers value and what they will pay for; and then what to expect consumers to eat next.

Another issue on the agenda is labor in mushroom harvesting. Mehrdad Kermani, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Western University, Ontario, will present research on a new robotic system for automated harvesting, and Bart Driessen, owner of The Netherlands-based consultancy Mycosupport, will provide an overview of global harvesting innovations.

Wesley Van Camp, vice president and general counsel at Tanimura & Antle; Craig Regelbrugge, senior vice president at AmericanHort; and Samantha Speck, a risk analyst and researcher, and instructional assistant at the University of Delaware, will participate on a panel discussion on research, legal and legislative perspectives on the labor issue.

On the production side, growing substrate is vital, and attendees will hear presentations on responsible peatland management from Paul Short of the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association and Julien Boijmans of BVB Substrates. Michael Kertesz, associate professor specializing in soil microbiology at the University of Sydney, will also discuss compost microbes and nitrogen supply in mushroom production.

Nutrition and breeding will be hot topics, according to the release. John Richie, professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at Penn State University, will speak about micronutrients and bioactive compounds in mushrooms and how they play into health. Bethany Shively, vice president of strategic communications at the U.S. Seed Trade Association will discuss plant breeding innovations and communications and stakeholder engagements.

The conference is every 18 months and alternates between the U.S. and Canada.