Organic mushrooms continue to account for an increasing portion of the category — 12%, to be exact — said Kevin Delaney, vice president of sales and marketing for To-Jo Mushrooms, Avondale, Pa.
The mushroom category has grown 8% since last year, he said. And though growth has slowed a bit, it remains impressive.
Organic mushrooms account for 10% of those grown at To-Jo, he said.
The company kicked off its organic program about six years ago and focuses on organic specialty mushrooms in order to limit its count of stock-keeping units.
Growing mushrooms organically is not much more difficult than growing conventional ones, Delaney said.
But yields are less because organic growers can’t use the same resources as conventional growers.
Phillips Mushroom Farms, Kennett Square, Pa., has expanded organic mushroom production in its Maryland facility by about 10%, said Kevin Donovan, sales manager.
The company offers all varieties of organic mushrooms and has had an organic program for about 15 years, he said.
About 20% of the company’s mushrooms are organically grown.
At first, the program increased gradually, he said, “But in the past two years, we’ve seen significant growth.”
Growing organically is not without its challenges, though.
“You have to have a strong system to keep everything separate,” he said.
Donovan estimated that production is 20% less on the organic side than it is for conventional mushrooms.
Ostrom Mushroom Farms, Olympia, Wash., will be able to grow mushrooms organically when the company opens its new farm in Sunnyside, Wash., said Fletcher Street, director of marketing and sales.
But some changes will have to be made in the growing process.
For example, the company will have to source gypsum and lime that is dug out of the ground instead of using products like recycled gypsum and sugar beet lime in casing layers and substrates.
“You’ve got to do your research,” Street said. “It can add costs pretty quickly.”
“Sadly,” she said, growing organically is somewhat less sustainable than growing conventionally.
“We use a lot of agricultural manufacturing waste right now to create our substrate,” she said.
“When we grow organic, we actually have to replace some of that recycled product and use virgin product.”
And often, a grower can’t get a third harvest off the substrate.
But major retailers and consumers want organic mushrooms, she said.
“If you want to do business with major retailers, you’re going to have to offer it.”
To date, Ponderosa Mushrooms & Specialty Foods, Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, has not been organically certified, but president Joe Salvo said he expects that to happen soon.
“We are basically organic already, we just haven’t finalized the paperwork to become certified,” he said.
The company has long been following organic growing practices, he said. There are only a few things that needed to be tweaked.
The demand — or at least a preference — for organic mushrooms exists in many markets the company serves, he said.
Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farms Inc., Gonzales, Texas, also grows pretty much organically but has not yet completed the certification process, said Bill St. John, sales director.
The company is “working in that direction,” he said, and may have an organic operation after it completes its current expansion project within the next year.
But St. John expressed concern about the quality of organic mushrooms.
“Some do not seem to hold up as well as conventional,” he said.