25th NAMC Recap: Friends, Food and Fun
To see photos of the event, click here.
Hundreds of mushroom industry growers, business leaders and researchers gathered in Orlando, Florida, February 14-16, for the 25th North American Mushroom Conference (NAMC). Among the attendees were plenty of familiar faces, along with nearly 40 first-timers to NAMC and, as a sign of the times, a handful of representatives from the investment community.
The business sessions offered something for everyone, with presentations ranging from mechanical harvesting innovations and labor perspectives to consumer and research trends, peat moss updates, employee retention initiatives and much more.
“This year’s theme, Growing a Brighter Future, highlighted innovations and advances in the industry and what mushroom businesses can expect in the future,” said Dan Leo, Chairman, 25th NAMC. “The speakers and presentations addressed current trends in the industry and ways to help position businesses for the future.”
Attendees agreed. In fact, 95 percent of attendees who responded to a post-conference survey said that their conference experience was excellent or above average.
“The conference was packed from beginning to end with valuable information and meaningful conversations. Hearing about all of the changes, innovations and challenges occurring in mushrooms is exciting and a good reminder of why we love the industry,” said Ed Wuensch, Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farms.
Lory Wolf of Scotts Acadian Peat Moss concurred. “The speakers were engaging and spoke -- from my point of view anyway – about relevant topics.”
Among issues discussed was labor in mushroom harvesting. Like all agriculture, the mushroom industry faces a labor shortage. Mushroom growing is highly labor intensive, and action is needed at the national level to address the issue.
Wesley Van Camp, Tanimura & Antle, Craig Regelbrugge, AmericanHort, and Samantha Speck, University of Delaware participated on a panel discussion on research, legal and legislative perspectives on the labor issue. Additionally, Dr. Mehrdad Kermani, Western University and Mycionics presented research on a new robotic system for automated harvesting and Bart Driessen, Mycosupport, provided an overview of global harvesting innovations.
On the production side, mushroom growing substrate is a vital element in the growing process. This includes peat moss, and attendees heard presentations on responsible peatland management from Paul Short of the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association and Julien Boijmans of BVB Substrates. Dr. Michael Kertesz of the University of Sydney also discussed compost microbes and nitrogen supply in mushroom production.
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 mushrooms’ nutrition, sustainability and flavor benefits.
Colleen McClellan, director at Datassential, a leading food market research firm, spoke on two consumer-themed topics. The first dealt with the social pressures and what consumers value and what they will pay for and the second presentation will look to the future and explore what to expect consumers to be eating next.
In some early nutrition studies, mushrooms have been identified as a food that might provide superior health benefits, making it a sought-after food. Dr. John Richie of Penn State University discussed the micronutrients and bioactive compounds in mushrooms and how they play into health. Additionally, plant breeding is a topic that is gaining attention with consumers, and Bethany Shively from the U.S. Seed Trade Association spoke about plant breeding innovations and communications and stakeholder engagements.
Everyone is pulled in multiple directions and have to-do lists a mile long in business and personal lives. Andy Core of Core Wellness gave an interactive presentation to attendees to help them thrive in today’s hectic society.
One of the most anticipated presentations of the conference was from Dave Carroll, Giorgi Mushroom Co. Carroll took audience members on a journey from his childhood through Giorgi’s history to present day and spoke to the head and tail winds the industry faces.
For Gale Ferranto, Buona Foods, Dave’s words hit home. “Dave’s presentation to close out the conference was very emotional and insightful for our future mushroom businesses. As an owner of a third generation family mushroom farm, I could relate to the talk of humble beginnings and growing up in a family business where we all pitched in to help our parents.” She added, “As for Dave’s bird’s-eye view into the future of our mushroom businesses, the impact that resonated with me was his call for great leadership and vision, as our future in agriculture is going to become more challenging as labor and technology issues advance.
In addition to the speaker presentations, the conference included several Expo sessions, a trade show format where suppliers to the industry could network with growers and shippers.
Patrick Morris, Techmark, was a first-time attendee to NAMC and also an exhibitor. “I attend a lot of conventions and industry meetings throughout the year. As an exhibitor, I really appreciated the intentional planning that went into the activities meant to encourage attendees to spend time in the exhibit area. Happy hours and meals all within sight of our stands made a difference. It makes a positive impact to have a properly-sized space like we had that encourages interactions with vendors.” He added, “Setting up a booth and travelling to a show can be expensive but when the show organizers create multiple opportunities to interact and network, the value proposition skyrockets. The NAMC is a no-brainer when it comes to setting up a booth and adding a sponsorship.”
This conference certainly was not all work and no play. The opening reception allowed attendees an opportunity to connect with old friends and network with new ones, three lucky winners took home prizes at the Expo reception and the closing dinner had food, friends and plenty of fun!
None of this would be possible without the commitment and support from all of the NAMC sponsors. Thank you to all the companies who supported this event!
The NAMC occurs approximately every 18 months and alternates between a destination in the U.S. and Canada. The 26th NAMC will be hosted by Mushrooms Canada, May 30 – June 3, 2021, in Vancouver, Canada.