For Frank Donnelly, Keenaghan Mushrooms, being part of Northway Mushrooms has transformed the way he does business in both practical and strategic ways. Since the Producer Organisation started in 2000 Northway Mushrooms has supported Frank in moving from white mushroom production to chestnut, provided access to funding for the installation of a biomass boiler, delivered picking training and agronomy services, provided access to a robust buying group and has developed a transparent supply chain with stable, fair prices.
Increase in Production
The result of this supported approach has been a 4 fold increase in production, a 40% increase in selling prices and a 50% reduction in energy costs, alongside increased training and development opportunities and reduced consumables costs through bulk buying by Northway.
“My father had grown mushrooms since 1986 and in 1992 I took over the farm. In 2002 I grew 135,060 lbs of white mushrooms per year at an average price of 56p per lb. During the next 2 years I increased production slightly but average prices were under pressure due to large quantity of Dutch and Polish mushrooms flooding into the UK . We looked hard at the white mushrooms and realised that unless we invested heavily it would be very hard to compete and survive in white mushroom production.
“After discussions with Northway Mushrooms and their marketing agent we decided that we needed to specialise in growing chestnut mushrooms which give a lower yield but attract a premium price. We started growing chestnut mushrooms in autumn 2005, our average price rose to 71p/lb and we increased production to 400,000 lbs per year.
“Through Northway we received a lot of advice on growing and picking which made the transition from whites to browns much easier. Our production continues to increase, most recently up to 800,000 lbs per year with an average price of 78p per lb. Harnessing IT has helped improved picking techniques and quicker communication with the packhouse assists in reducing costs and presenting our products in high quality condition.”
“I have been able to meet direct with supermarket buyers on several occasions when they visited my farm to learn about the mushroom industry. The transparent supply chain allows me to discuss the difficulties with growing mushrooms and discuss size specifications and quality issues that often arise on a day to day basis which customers wouldn’t understand.”
Major costs within mushroom production
There are three major costs for mushroom farmers, compost costs, energy costs and picking costs. Northway Mushrooms has helped Frank to continually identify new ways of reducing these costs to increase profitability. While farmers can have little influence over compost costs, improving the efficiency of picking through effective training can dramatically increase picking rates by more than 25% and Frank Donnelly is one of several Northway Mushrooms members who have taken advantage of such training. Northway records the picking rates for over 25 growers which helps members to benchmark picking rates and sources funding to encourage growers to introduce training.
Energy costs are a significant drain on resources and are likely to become more and more of a burden to producers. Frank is one of several farmers whom Northway Mushrooms has supported in researching the potential of biomass boilers. In 2007 Frank installed a 150kw biomass boiler and re-piped all the mushroom houses with state of the art insulated pipe. The biomass boiler has brought much more than just a 50% reduction in energy costs. It has encouraged Frank to develop his communication skills and to offer opportunities for sharing best practice. Frank said:
“Since installing the boiler I‘ve hosted several open days for Northway Mushrooms to show other growers the benefits of the Biomass Boiler. I have at least one or two visits each week to the farm to see the boiler and take part in guided tours from mushroom growers, farmers, customers and other business contacts which has given me invaluable experience and improved by communications skills. I’ve also been delighted to take part in schools initiatives, helping children learn about mushroom growing and supporting them in producing their own crop to help raise awarenesss of our industry.”
Working with Northway Mushrooms Frank continues to innovate – growing and developing his business in response to customer demand. If anyone would like to visit Frank’s farm please contact Northway Mushrooms.