New ideas, technologies and the development of Polish mushroom industry

Nikodem Sakson

Business development is based on one hand on overcoming the existing barriers, and on the other hand on searching for new ideas and technologies, which would allow achieving better results at its everyday functioning. Polish mushroom industry is nowadays a significant part of this business all around the world.

Four unsolved problems of mushroom industry all over the world

  1. Stagnation and variability of mushroom yielding resulting from lack of improvement of quality and stability of produced compost. In Europe for years now the average yield of mushroom on fresh market using the phase III compost has been reaching a level of 30–32 kg/m2. Whereas on the world 40% usage of substratum can’t be exceeded, regardless of the raw materials used and technologies of producing the substratum.
  2. Pests and diseases, mainly dry rot and green mold still cause significant loss of crops.
  3. For years there hasn’t been a satisfactory improvement in reducing the cost of work during the manual picking.
  4. Malodorous odors, which occur during a production of phase I compost, are still a problem in development of mushroom industry.

The production of substratum became nowadays a significant part of poultry production, transferring a part of profit to poultry industry. This means that mushroom industry is participating in maintaining competitive prices of poultry. In this situation poultry industry doesn’t bear the costs of utilization of excrements emerging during the production of broilers and eggs. This at the same time means that production of mushrooms is more and more becoming an element of environmental protection. How to assess such role of mushroom industry? Especially, that composting plants largely take part in utilization of other wastes from other animal productions, not only poultry. The reason for this is that some of supplements of phase III compost have animal waste. Clients buying mushrooms bear the costs of this utilization.

New ideas solving current problems of mushroom industry

  1. The growth and stabilization of mushroom yielding and the level of substratum usage.

Problem: If the production plants are equipped accordingly, why isn’t it possible to achieve regular yield of 20 kg/m2 in the first and second flush? Periodically the yield achieved in the first flush sometimes reaches the level of 23 kg/m2. The same can be said about the yield from the third flush, as it doesn’t exceed the level of 5 kg/m2, and the abundance of compost allows reaching the same level in the fourth flush.

Still not less than 60% of compost mass has to be utilized, even though mushrooms should be able to go on yielding.

Solution: A new paradigm: „growing mushrooms is a controlled process of its nutrition”.

It is based on four assumptions. First two relate to nutrition:

1. Mushrooms take part in a process of mineralization of galenical dead matter. Mushrooms’ nutritional needs are based on acquisition of energy, carbon, water, oxygen and minerals from it. Dead organic matter with adequate composition provides all the nutritional needs of mushrooms. Achieving the yielding of a certain level it is necessary to provide an access to needed amount of nutrients, balanced by the need of water and with access to oxygen.

2. The yield of first and second flush is dependent on the mass of the spawn, where the nutrients and water are accumulated. The growth of spawn’s mass can be controlled by the process of recolonization, when transfer of nutrients and water from the substratum to spawn takes place. The spawn of mushrooms in a casing soil shouldn’t dry out nor should casing soil have deficit of water during the whole yielding process. Yielding in third and later flushes depends on the course of the process of cold composting of the substratum on a shelf without its active participation.

The other two assumptions relate to controlling the way pins and fruiting bodies behave:

1. To achieve an expected level of yield by supplying the nutritional needs of mushrooms it is necessary to use the effect of domination of pins and growing fruiting bodies by creating and controlling the behavior of its individual generations.

2. The process of nutrition has to be carried out in conditions of controlled growth of the mass of fruiting bodies, which at the same time provides water and nutrition uptake by them. This means maintaining the welfare.

  1. Cultivation of mushrooms without using pesticides.

Problem: Is using pesticides necessary to protect cultivation of mushrooms from diseases and pests?

Solution: It isn’t necessary because mechanism of biosuppression of mushrooms can be used in relations to competitive mushrooms, located in a substratum. During the process of biosuppression mushrooms eliminate microflora unfavorable for her. They achieve this goal by increasing concentration of carbon dioxide, by changing the PH of the environment and by producing hydrogen peroxide during enzymatic digestion of nutrients (compost and supplement). In case of green mold (there are no infections at the moment) the problem may possibly be solved by intensive recolonization connected with increasing the amount of water during this period.

The same mechanism can be used in case of germinating spores of fungal diseases, which attack the spawn during the period of yielding (dry and white rot). Those fungal diseases are residue of primal infections, which means the residue of spores of those diseases in a casing soil after placing on the substratum. This process can be supported by adding salt to casing soil with large dosage of water, which washes the casing soil. Effectiveness of biosuppression is additionally enhanced by very short period of time from putting the casing soil to shock (4 days), with balanced dosage of water and added supplement.

A special diet can be used in the nutrition of mushrooms, which elements would also deter diptera.

Rapid growth of spawn’s mass during the recolonization period can secure substratum from colonization from nematodes.

  1. Production of substratum without malodorous odors.

Problem: How can odors are eliminated during production of compost?

Solution: They can be eliminated by omitting phase I during the production of compost. It is yet an unsolved question whether on such substratum the same or bigger level of yield can be achieved in comparison to cultivating mushrooms on traditional compost.

American research using cut corn stover in production of substratum omitting phase I is a beginning of work on solving this problem. Theoretically it can be assumed that it is possible. The process of nutrition of mushrooms allows this. But more research on wider scale is needed.

  1. Improving effectiveness of selective harvesting.

Problem: Can selective harvesting be simplified such way that its efficiency is enhanced, yield and the quality of collected fruiting bodies is improved?

Solution: It can be achieved by introducing a device choosing fruiting bodies to collect automatically (Advanced Mushroom Research). It could choose only those fruiting bodies, which should be collected. Harvesting too early (loss of mass) or too late (loss of quality) could be avoided. Such way additional lowering of costs could be possible, by hiring cheaper, less trained workers. Possibility of controlling effect of domination and incubation of fruiting bodies without loss of quality should improve results of using this device.

Other ideas

Other ideas existing in the industry can be pointed out:

1. Balanced production of mushrooms by taking ecological actions, especially conserving energy used in production. Mushroom Business propagates it the most.

2. New strains of mushrooms which give improved level of yield and better quality.

3. Nutrigain develops other concept of growing based on nutrition of mushrooms on every stage of its production, by using their own products from natural nutrients.


Using grinded and crafted corn as a supplement for substratum and controlling nutrition of mushrooms.

Using controlled nutrition based on a supplement containing grinded and crafted corn is a technology of production of mushrooms that should be done in following stages:

  1. Replacing protein supplements with supplement from crafted corn on a level of 0, 5–1%.

This change allows reducing the cost of supplement and stabilization of the yielding if small decreases of quality of substratum occur. The possibility of increase of quality of fruiting bodies also occurs, only if the amount of corn and mushrooms’ need for water in compost is balanced. This technology allows improving the quality of fruiting bodies and stabilization of yield on a level of 30 kg/m2.

  1. Stabilization of production on average yearly level of 32–34 kg/m2 and 2% dose of corn as supplement.

There is a possibility to improve yielding level to 37 kg/m2, with a dose of supplement up to 2% and putting casing soil in amount of 85–90 kg/m2. It allows improving the usage of fresh substratum mass up to 43–44%. In this case the necessary condition of achieving mentioned effects is also balancing the amount of water with the dose of used supplement in the recolonization phase and applying procedures of control of the behavior of pins and fruiting bodies during the whole period of incubation. Yield of this level is probably the limit of this supplement’s ability of improvement. Further additions to compost most likely do not balance the needs of mushrooms, so it could improve yielding based on nutrients contained in minimal amounts in compost. Problems with nutrients like for example microelements could be the reason for this.

  1. The 40+ technology of nutrition – average yield on a level of 40 kg/m2 of mushrooms with over 95% of best class, with reduction of production costs by changing the diet further. Continuation of research of technology allowing such results is needed.

In a longer term a new standard of quality of Polish mushrooms should arise. It should be promoted on main markets, improving competitiveness of Polish producers.

Technological gap

One can say that a technological gap occurred in Poland this year. It is connected to mushroom production on phase III substratum that is available on a market. This gap is a result of development of technology in Poland. Right now from technical point of view the gap reaches 5 kg/m2 and it will increase possibly up to 10 kg/m2 next year. This gap is even bigger from economic perspective, because such results can be achieved by reducing the need of energy by around 10% and reducing the cost of pesticides by 2 zł/m2. It is also achieved by increasing the level of the yield by 5% and 5-10% increase in income as a result of improving the quality of collected fruiting bodies and prolonging the time of their usefulness for sale. Gaining such results doesn’t require additional investments and is accompanied by reducing the fixed costs.

This technological gap can be intensified after development of new technology of production of substratum with omitting phase I, which was up until now necessary in production of compost. It could reduce the cost of producing substratum even to 50%, but some other additional investments will then be needed. Scale of this investment is difficult to estimate, because of lack of specific technology. At the moment it can’t be indicated when or where such technology will appear, and what will be the level of yield of mushrooms.

Implementation of new technologies

The basic question is: who will be implementing new technologies in a situation when companies which create their own efficient new technologies and bear the costs of adapting them, will master the production of mushrooms and will get desirable effects, are not interested in sharing it. It is in their interest for technologies to be popularized slowly, because it provides them with longer period of innovative profits. Those profits can reach 20% of production costs without additional costs of acquiring and adapting the technology, which are relatively low.

Is it possible nowadays to repeat the situation from years 2000 – 2004? At this time thanks to the transfer of technology from Holland and adaptation to polish conditions essential improvement of the level of yield was obtained (around 2 kg/m2 bigger than in Holland).

Mushroom industry in Podlaski in consideration of technological gap.

It is mainly in Podlaski Region where the biggest development of Polish mushroom industry takes place. This question can be asked: is it true that in this region 90% of Polish mushrooms are produced, or is it just information created by media? Regardless of these facts, changes in this region will shape the future position of Polish mushroom industry. It is in Podlaskie, where the production of mushrooms is growing the fastest and it is there, where the biggest investments into area of cultivation are located. The biggest producers groups are working in a best way at this region. The location of Podlaskie is very favorable considering the market and this region has the greatest access to cheap labor, this is why it is the most competitive in relations to other countries of EU. However the amount of compost production is insufficient, what requires supply from other regions of Poland. But the amount of production of casing soil is larger than the local demand. Additional advantage of Podlaskie is employed people, they are diligent and resistant to difficulties, and they also have advanced skills in trading with the East.

In situation when new technologies are introduced the basic questions are: how will conservative local community manage the necessity of creating and using new technologies of production and will typical for peripheral regions trends of staying competitive by using cheap labor and imitating solutions introduced by other producers be preserved? Does it mean that preferable model of development will be the one using investments and innovations that are introduced somewhere else, as it successfully worked in a past? At present there are no actions towards creating new technologies in Podlaskie. Obtained additional financial resources are allocated for other purposes.

Why does functioning in existing now satellite mushroom production system does not allow development?

The reasons of lack of development in satellite mushroom production system, which dominates in Europe at present, are:

  • This system leads a market game with zero results. It doesn’t endeavor revenue growth and reduction of the costs of production by innovation, especially soft innovation. The game applies just too sharing profit between participants of the system (producers of raw materials, producers of mushrooms, suppliers of means of production, sales organizers). At present the improvement of production and keeping the profit level is done by investments increasing the production area. Permanent decrease of profits is a result of the continuing fixed prices of mushrooms and increasing costs of their production. This last phenomenon is counteracted by the industry by conducting promotional campaigns that support the growth of consumption of mushrooms. The goal is to induce growth of demand over supply, at the same time inducing growth of prices, for produced mushrooms. The effect of this situation is that interest in other actions concentrated on development is reduced.
  • Producers functioning in the satellite mushroom production system do not take independent actions in which the goal would be to create and adapt innovation, gain knowledge and raise their qualifications, because they do not want to bear the costs. So far information and training were given to producers in Europe for free from state or as a part of marketing strategy of producers of raw material. In mushroom industry information is not treated as a commodity, and sharing is considered a social mission. When state stopped being the source of information, and is not responsible for qualification of farmers, producers of mushrooms are having problems with navigating themselves on a market of information, ideas and technology. At the same time the creators of those information, ideas and technology treat them as a commodity. Besides, if new, effective technologies and innovations will be popularized slowly, the innovative profit for their creators will last longer and will be bigger.
  • The most of suppliers of raw materials are presently not interested in popularization of new technologies and innovations too. The reason for this is that they are afraid that new technologies and innovations could destroy the balance of the forces on the market. Transfer of information and counseling given by companies supplying raw material are a part of marketing and this determines the scope of their free offer.

Following question is essential: will the change of generations (that is undergoing right now) favor innovation of the mushroom industry in this field or will it favor growth and preserving the current model of production?

The location and people are not without significance. Poland, despite the size of its production and the position of the biggest exporter of fresh mushrooms in the world, is seen as a peripheral country that can only adapt innovations and not create them. It is the Dutch who are still considered the ones to create innovations and share them around the world.

Creating necessary technological innovations, especially in the field of automation of controlling the cultivation or using robots in production is the other issue here. There is no indication that this type of actions have been taken in Poland.

It is very important to answer the question how will the mushroom industry in Holland (which is the biggest competitor of Poland in production of mushrooms on fresh market) be developing? Will there be at least a partial transfer of production on fresh market from this country to Poland? Will other competitors arise, who will choose to use the same development mechanism and even cheaper labor?

Forecast of development

It can generally be assumed that present direction of change will be maintained. That means investments into bigger areas of cultivation. This situation could be maintained by introducing in more and more EU countries minimum wage on increasingly higher level. Presently and in the near future Polish minimum wage will stay on a level of 25% of minimum wage of countries which are the biggest consumers and producers of mushrooms in EU. As a result the market can still grow at the cost of local producers in the countries mushrooms are exported to. That means that Polish producers will reach the limit of demand, when 70% of production of mushrooms on fresh market will come from Poland.

Changing regulations about odors, crop failure of straw, arising of competitive market or invasion of pests or diseases can be considered the most important threats for the smooth functioning of the industry. Russian market collapse could only mean a temporary downturn.

Development by new technologies will accelerate during the time of crisis. However one shouldn’t expect it in times of prosperity.

Industrial production as a development factor

Industrial production can become essential factor of development of production of mushrooms on a fresh market. Following characteristics should determine this:

In my opinion popularization of innovation and new technologies can be much faster in companies that lead industrial production of mushrooms

The rules of industrial production

  1. Mini/max. Minimal dependence on nature and maximal control of the technological process
  2. Full cycle of production – from raw material to individual sales (including marketing).
  3. Effect of the scale
  4. Internal sources of development of technology, as building strategy of development.
  5. Management and organization focused on development.


The technological gap is a fact and it has opportunities to increase, not decrease. Because there are difficulties in creating and adapting soft innovations in satellite mushroom production system and there is no market pressure on reducing the costs of production, it is to be expected that implementation of new technologies will be on smaller scale and only in companies interested in moving towards industrial production of mushrooms. The main participants of the market in the satellite mushroom production system, in Poland and Holland as well, are not interested in changing the principles of functioning and leading in this system. The low costs of labor will encourage preservation of the present model of development.