( File photo )

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2018-19 mushroom production report had some surprises for the industry, showing an 8% drop in both sales and volume, which at 846.5 million pounds is the lowest production since 2009-10.

The actual downturn, however, is likely much lower. The National Agricultural Statistics Service, which compiles the data for the annual report, surveyed growers in just eight states (California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas) instead of all states.

Fresh-market agaricus mushroom sales, however, valued at $1.02 billion, aren’t far off of the past season’s $1.07 billion value, although volume dropped from 813 million pounds to 762 million pounds.

The industry was unaware of the change until the report was released on Aug. 21, a day after its scheduled release due to technical difficulties, according to the NASS website.

Rachel Roberts, executive director of the American Mushroom Institute, Avondale, Pa., said the industry relies on the NASS report for its analysis.

“Put simply, the comparative value of the data isn’t valid for determining trends, and there is too much information in question to provide an informed comment,” Roberts said in a statement from the institute. “Our expectation, given the chronic challenges growers face, was a dip in production, but we’re unable to offer valuable information on which any business decisions can be made.”

Mushroom growers have faced rising costs from adverse weather, labor issues, transportation expenses and consumer preferences changing to favor varieties that cost more to produce, according to the institute.

“Growers continue to look for ways to improve efficiencies where they can, however, right now they are operating at full capacity and unfortunately facing headwinds beyond their control,” Roberts said in the statement.

In the past year, trends have continued to favor mushrooms, from restaurants promoting burgers made with a mushroom/meat blend, and snack options such as mushroom jerky.

“While this has been described to us by NASS as a ‘transition’ reporting year, we expect future reports will offer comparable data and will provide a more complete description of the industry that we look forward to including as an important resource for decision-making,”  Roberts said in the statement.

Fleming Gibson, a NASS statistician who compiles data for the report, said the eight states in the report represent more than 90% of the value of sales from the USDA's 2017 Census of Agriculture.

"For the narratives in the releases we always compare year-to-year U.S. totals even when the program states change in cases like this," Gibson said in an e-mail. "However, I would agree the comparison across years is comparing two different things."

Data from the eight states were not published individually in previous mushroom reports due to disclosure of individual operations, so there's no way to make cross-year comparisons from the latest two mushroom reports, Gibson said.

As in past reports, the 2018-19 report breaks out agaricus totals for Pennsylvania and California, the largest producing states. California's total agaricus sales, for fresh and processing, in 2018-19 were $195.5 million, just slightly lower than the $195.7 million the previous year. The state produced 93.2 million pounds of agaricus mushrooms in 2018-19, down from 93.3 million pounds in 2017-18.

Pennsylvania's 2018-19 agaricus crop was 556.6 million pounds, down from 572.2 million pounds in 2017-18, and the most recent crop was valued at $557.1 million, down from $572.2 million, according to the report.

According to the report, agaricus and specialty mushroom production was 846.5 million pounds in 2018-19, compared to 917.2 million pounds. The average price per-pound remained the same, at $1.34, for a total sales value of $1.13 billion in the eight states.

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