Forest cultivated mushrooms have been growing in interest and the question new growers often ask is, “can you make money growing mushrooms?” The answer is YES, and a three year research project at Cornell University, the University of Vermont, and Chatham University confirmed this in 2012.
Four species have been proven reliable for forest (outdoor) cultivation: Shiitake, Oyster, Lions Mane, and Stropharia.
Shiitake mushrooms are the most reliable in terms of being able to produce reliably, week after week on logs, thus being viable for commercial purposes.
Oysters can be reliably produced on a wide range of organic materials (straw, sawdust, etc) on a weekly basis however much of this production is done indoors in hoop houses, greenhouses, barns, or custom grow rooms. Log cultivation is easy and successful in forest settings, but fruiting is limited to certain time frames during the season.
Lions Mane is limited to fruiting in Spring and/or Fall on logs, though yields are quite reliable and prolific and these mushrooms can easily be sold to established markets.
Stropharia is the wild-card, as it will fruit in a wide range of conditions and in widely varying amounts, from a half pound to over 30 pounds per flush!
Therefore, we recommend growers who are interested in commercial production build an enterprise based on shiitake log and low-tech oyster cultivation, and supplement with other species.
The basic numbers (shiitake cultivation on logs):
For each log inoculated, costs including labor (at $12/hr) are on average $4.74 per log. This includes all materials and time to harvest, inoculate, and manage logs.
Each log will produce an average of 1/4 to 1/2 pound of mushrooms per flush (logs are soaked for 24 hrs to induce fruiting)
A grower can acheive 2 to 3 flushes per season. Log lifespan is an average of 8 flushes or 3 – 4 years.
Fresh mushrooms generally sell for $12 – 16/lb retail, $10 – $12/lb wholesale
Dried mushrooms generally sell for $6 – 8/oz. A fresh pound of mushrooms is equal to about 2 oz dried.
Two articles published in the Small Farm Quarterly offer some insights into the economics of production:
Mushrooms Turning a Net Profit for Forest Farmers in the Northeast, by Steve Gabriel, Winter 2015
Lion’s Mane: A new candidate for profitable forest mushroom cultivation, by Ken Mudge, Spring 2015