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Shiitake Mushroom Farming

The exotic shiitake mushroom (pronounced Shu-Tah-kee), a native of Japan and known for its health benefits is becoming an alternative for farmers that use to grow tobacco. Shiitake mushrooms grow on dead hardwood trees in a warm, moist environment. shiitake mushroom farming is a fairly simple process.

In the United States, shiitake is translated to "oak growing" since the best log for growing the shiitake mushroom is oak. Small, three- to four-foot logs leaning against a horizontal pole are used to harvest the mushrooms. The logs are cut, prepared and inoculated with purchased plugs which contain the mushroom spore.  One oak log will produce mushrooms for five to seven years, taking nutrients from the log, leaving it to decay to compost on the forest floor.  Mushroom spore plugs are $35/1000 and produce for five years.  There are no fertilizers to buy as with tobacco.

The amount of land required to produce 3,500 pounds of tobacco can be fitted with the 1,500 logs of mushrooms.  With half the labor, the mushrooms can produce the same or more income.

Besides being a very tasty food with a mild bacon-like flavor, the shiitake has an even more appealing quality that is causing it to be in great demand.  The shiitake is lauded as the ultimate health food, having the ability to boost the immune system, lower cholesterol, and help prevent a myriad of common ailments.

With the world demand being greater than the supply, this hidden treasure has the potential to become a new "cash crop" for former tobacco farmers as it gains popularity.  shiitake mushrooms, thrive in environments like that found in western North Carolina and there is plenty of hardwood in the region as well.

The final decision on whether or not to grow shiitake mushrooms commercially rests on economics.  Based on experiences in other areas of the United States and overseas, a cord of approximately 125 logs will yield about 500 pounds of mushrooms, or 4 pounds per log. At a selling price of $4 per pound, mushrooms from one cord of wood should generate $2,000.

Initial costs for obtaining one cord of logs, by either cutting or buying them, is approximately $100. The spawn for inoculation costs approximately $100. Production costs for labor, supplies, marketing, and amortized costs of refrigeration and irrigation amount to an additional $800 to $1,300. Returns to the grower for his or her labor, capital, and management should be approximately $500 to $1,000 per cord of logs.

Growing shiitake mushrooms can be profitable at today's market prices. Profit margins, however, will probably decrease as national production increases and supply approaches demand. The small-scale producer will face competition from large-scale producers as well as from companies that grow shiitake mushrooms on sawdust. The successful grower will be one who produces a quality product at minimum cost while developing and maintaining an effective marketing strategy.

For more information about shiitake mushroom farming, click here.

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