Joe & Dolores Gorman, Garryhinch Co Offaly, of Garryhinch Wood Exotic Mushrooms in conversation with That’s Farming, editor Catherina Cunnane, as part of this week’s Farmer Focus.
“We got into growing mushroom in the 1980s after exploring different farming enterprises. Mushroom growing is a life journey. You learn something new every day.
It is multifaceted and requires many different disciplines.
The most important requirement is resilience, but you also need to be good at the technical stuff, business, people management, selling, customer service, etc., and farming skills of agronomy of growing mushrooms.
I am a full-time organic mushroom grower (farmer), and use spent mushroom substrate to condition and fertilise my own land.
Furthermore, I have completed mushroom-growing courses in Ireland and the Netherlands over the years and business training. Previously, I was a tillage farmer.
Garryhinch Wood Exotic Mushrooms
Garryhinch Wood Exotic Mushrooms Ltd’s team comprises Dolores and I, along with eight wonderful staff members.
The size of the farm is approximately 10,000 m2 approx. Mushroom growing is a protected horticulture activity in purpose-built housing which is environmentally controlled.
Today, we grow organic exotic mushrooms: Shiitake, Grey, Pink, Yellow, King and Golden Oyster, Forest Namkeo, Maitake and Lion’s Mane.
Our mushrooms are grown on a very selective hardwood-based substrate base which provides the mushroom mycellia with the essential nutrients mfor optimum growth.
The growing is done in an environmentally controlled mushroom house with temperature, humidity, and light carefully managed to deliver correct results.
Growing processes and protocols vary from variety to variety. Growing times also vary with each variety.
Harvesting (picking) is a skilful job and done manually by operatives. Quality control must be rigorous as we serve demanding customers.
All mushrooms are weighed, packaged, and labelled in a purpose-built packhouse before going in our fleet of temperature-controlled vehicles to market daily; mushroom growing is a seven day a week business.
The entire supply chain is temperature-controlled to ensure our customers receive products in the freshest state possible, typically within 24 hours of harvesting.
Our customers are retail, wholesale, food-service, hotels, restaurants and farmers’ markers. Besides, our mushrooms are also used as an ingredient in food products such as ready meals.
Our mushrooms are organically certified and produced in a chemical-free environment.
This involves the entire growth production cycle and is done without any chemicals.
The wood (hardwood) and other essential ingredients used to make the substrate base are all organic, and all growing processes and protocols etc., are all organic.
We are certified by the Irish Organic Association and are audited frequently to ensure compliance. This gives our customer base the confidence that the provenance and complete supply chain is verified organic.
The benefits of organic product is that our customers know that the product is a 100% natural product grown in an environmentally sustainable way.
Since Covid 19 became an issue, we have developed and improved strict measures on our farm to protect our staff, ourselves, our customers, and our suppliers.
All staff have temperature checks etc., on-site entry. We wear masks, sterilise, and handwash all the time. Also, we clean and sterilise surfaces regularly throughout the day.
We do not allow visitors on site without strict protocol adherence.
Our responsibilities as a business are to protect everyone in our supply chain whom we interact with either in person or by-product.
Covid-19 had a very adverse impact on our food-service business, with orders from hotels, restaurants, wholesalers etc., decimated.
Retail and farmers’ markets grew rapidly to close the gap of other losses. The big lesson here is to have multiple routes to market to minimise business risk.
In summary, our business has recovered well after the initial shock and market loss.
Challenges: competition & costs
Brexit, in 2016, destroyed our original conventional mushroom business overnight with a 25% negative swing in sterling, forcing us to close the business in late 2016.
We launched our new organic exotic mushroom business in 2018 from a zero base.
Then, in early 2020, Covid-19 hit, and 30% of our business disappeared almost overnight.
It takes a lot of resilience to deal with these business shocks! One always faces new challenges in the marketplace in an ever-changing world.
Low-margin, high-volume business
Today the big challenges are labour availability, and all costs have increased dramatically in the last year, mainly driven by the after-effects of Brexit and exacerbated by Covid-19 issues.
The market is always challenging, but we are in a growth sector with mushrooms.
The conventional mushroom business has consolidated over the last 20 years, driven by growing technology changes. With the UK being our biggest market from Ireland, the sterling challenge is ever-present.
The conventional mushroom business is a low-margin, high-volume business, and scale drives viability. However, we are in a small niche area now, and our objective is to service this small niche well.
Our mushrooms are organic, which is a major point of difference. Exotic mushrooms are relatively new to Ireland, and there are only a few players.
The costs of entry to this market are high. The fact that we grow on wood-based substrate gives us a competitive advantage as our produce is very high quality and has a longer shelf-life than other exotic mushrooms grown on other substrates.
Today we do not export as we sell all produce in the Republic of Ireland. However, we are open to exporting in some format in the future.
Our produce varies in price depending on the variety, with pricing ranging from €10.00/kg upwards to over €20.00/kg for more exotic offerings.
Our cost base is higher because we are using wood-based substrate while being organic also adds additional costs.
We plan to service this small market niche well and develop new and different products by investing in innovation and development.
In five years, we would like to be a successful player in this small niche area and sustain the business into the future by introducing newer exciting offerings.
We will exit this business on a day-to-day basis at some future point. However, we would like to think that others will carry on the business long after us.
We have made many mistakes over the years in mushrooms and also learned a lot. We cannot live in the past in our ever-changing world, and we are confident that the future holds many exciting opportunities and, of course, with opportunity comes challenges.
In 2018, we founded this business from the ashes of the original business.
We have overcome Brexit and hopefully Covid-19. We look forward to the future, having learned we must be flexible in a tough and ever-changing marketplace.
The mushroom business is tough and challenging but never boring.”
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Compiled with the assistance of Traffic Media.