Mushroom supply will remain unstable until load shedding ends, says an industry body.

SA hit by mushroom shortage as a fifth of supply disappears due to farm closures

SA is currently facing a considerable mushroom shortage, with the Joburg Market saying it has not seen any “for a while”.

Gerbrandt Rust, managing executive at major producer Denny Mushrooms, estimates that about 20%, or 75 tonnes, less is being supplied to the market each week.

This is mainly due to two private mushroom farms closing – in Gauteng and the Western Cape – and Denny’s operations in Durban having been destroyed by a fire in September last year.

“Producing mushrooms is a sophisticated process, and the industry is relatively small in SA. There are only about 18 mushroom farms. Load shedding also creates a production challenge, as well as increased input costs,” says Rust.

Woolworths also confirmed the shortage of mushrooms.

“A mushroom plant in KwaZulu-Natal burnt down. Two other producers have closed down. A fourth major producer is currently experiencing production issues which have impacted the volume of mushrooms they produce,” the retailer told News24.

The major mushroom producer currently experiencing production issues anticipates resolving the situation by the end of April.

“Mushroom farms require lots of electricity. Load shedding and generator failures contribute to the shortage [of supply] and impacts quality. At Woolworths, quality and freshness remain our highest priority. We will continue to work with our suppliers to see how we can maintain a consistent supply, where possible,” said Woolworths.

Another retailer, who asked not to be named, says the large local supplier having reduced its production would impact the quantity of mushrooms available for sale. From a quality perspective, however, there haven’t been specific issues related to load shedding, depending on what fluctuations it brought about in the cold chain.

“We are currently managing the availability within the supply base as there are intermittent shortages on specific lines, mainly on the brown mushroom ranges,” the retailer said.

Tough business

According to the chairperson of the South African Mushroom Farmers’ Association (SAMFA), Ross Richardson, mushroom growing is one of the most technologically advanced and sophisticated agricultural industries. 

“Commercial mushroom production is highly mechanised, costs are high, and extensive capital investment is required. It is an industry vulnerable to a variety of factors,” says Richardson.

“Ongoing load shedding has been onerous on South African mushroom farmers and has led to an unstable mushroom supply generally while the loss of a major Denny farm in KwaZulu-Natal has resulted in a significant reduction in output in that region.”

He explains that the mushroom-growing process is complicated and requires tightly controlled air-conditioned and ventilated tunnels and growing rooms, and uninterrupted power supply around the clock. 

“If there is no power, all of the growth processes are affected, and yield can be drastically reduced. Mushroom farms have invested in generators, but they often break because of the continuous power requirements on a farm. Our highly technical equipment is also damaged through the ongoing power spikes and power cuts,” says Richardson.

SAMFA believes that mushroom supply will remain unstable until load shedding ends. In addition, mushroom farmers have experienced unusually high increases in input costs during the past 12 months. Peat, diesel, packaging, electricity, wages, and load shedding costs have all increased between 3% and 15% above the inflation rate, placing pressure on mushroom farms. 

SAMFA predicts that mushroom prices will continue to rise until stability returns to the production side. After that, specials and promotions will start to resume. –

– Additional reporting by Phillip De Wet.

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