On December 13 UMDIS took mushroom growers to see mushroom farms in Poland. And also, a cooperative, and equipment suppliers. The trip was organized by UMDIS Mushroom Information Agency. We traveled through the Eastern region of Poland (Siedlce and Losice). This is the region where the most modern and large mushroom farms are located. We were told that the percentage of mushrooms produced in this region in Poland exceeds 60% – but no one dared to guess the percentage exactly.
Among the participants were mushroom farms and mushroom growers “Blansh”, “FH Leshchenko”, Yevhen Avramuk, Inna Dashkovetska, Anatoliy Andreev, compost yard “Agaris Miko”. We visited six mushroom farms in Poland, including the largest in Europe: Głuchowski and Sopińscy.
Equipment suppliers Atmo-Control (climate control), Wojtek (combine), Elmex (automation), LAB-EL (automation) helped UMDIS with this trip. Representatives of the spawn supplier Amycel also were present.
About mushroom growing in Poland
Starting with the basics: for compost, larger farms tend to have multiple suppliers – the largest farms have three. This makes it easier to check who made a mistake – the technologist of the farm or the compost plant. Fortunately, Poles have plenty to choose from. The quality of compost varies greatly according to the technologists. “Our supplier X always has a stable quality, and we get a stable yield from their compost – but this yield is like so-so. While supplier Y has different quality – we can get a very good or much worse yield from it,” one of the technologists shares with UMDIS.
Regarding spawn – we were told about this on more than one farm – some compost plants try to influence their customers to choose compost with a specific spawn (for example, of their own production). Mushroom growers are trying to fight. “In Poland, it’s hard to get someone to do something,” says one mushroom grower, hinting at significant competition among composters. Another grower says: “We have a smaller farm. Therefore, in order to get the compost with spawn that we want and no to get the answer they would not sow a whole tunnel for us – we combine our order with our neighbors and adjust the loads.”
During our trip, mushroom growers were interested in whether growers in Poland pick two or three flashes? We talked about it with farms and with equipment suppliers Atmo-Control, Wojtek, Elmex, which were on many farms. In short, some farms collect two, others three flashes. Each is convinced that their approach is the most commercially justified. It is possible to follow the connection that if the farm usually cooks the rooms, it is more likely they to pick the third flash, because it gives a lower risk of diseases. But this is not a guarantee that the formula will work on all farms.
Regarding payment for pickers. On different farms in Poland, it varies near 1 zloty (0.21 Euro) per 1 kg. Some pay around 0.9 zloty and even 0.8+ zloty, some 1 zloty, some more 1 zloty. They are some bonuses possible on some farms, also they can pay differently depending on the grade of mushroom. The common thing is that everyone pays by the kilogram and not by the hour. The exception is the first month or a couple of weeks for people without experience, which some farms pay at a special rate – so as not to scare off the pickers during training with low salaries.
Regarding yield. UMDIS wants to make an amendment that the numbers we provide are not dogma. In this region of Poland, where UMDIS took the group, there are well-equipped farms, and the average yield in other regions may be lower. On Siedlce-Losice farms, the yield usually depends on whether two or three flashes are picked on the farm. If we try to average, then we can say that those who harvest two flashed usually have a yield of up to 30 kg/m2 – at the same time, we were not told less than 27 kg/m2.
Those who pick three flashes have from 30 to 40 kg/m2. We are talking about white mushrooms. On one farm, UMDIS was told: “We consider 35 kg per m2 from three flashes as good yield. In reality, we have 30 kg per m2”. One farm provides the following sample in flashes: 18.5, 9.5, 4.5 kg per m2 (32.5 together), another 16-20, 8-12, 3-5 kg per m2 (27-37 together). For someone, the norm is 36-38 kg per m2 – and someone considers 35 kg per m2 to be the lowest possible norm, while they consistently have up to 39, and sometimes even get 40 kg per m2. Everything is very individual – it depends on the farm, organization, compost, and other factors. It does not work by the formula “the bigger the farm, the higher its yield”.
What did we see?
The participants of the trip were impressed by the closed Głuchowski farm cycle. Farm technologist Petro Danyliuk says that they collect straw for themselves with their own machines, produce compost, grow mushrooms, make boxes (the production of boxes is non-stop, technologically it is too difficult to stop and restart it) – they also deal with sales themselves. What is not produced by them – is casing soil.
Each farm in the Głuchowski Group has its own chief technologist and deputy technologist – it is interesting that the main technologists have the freedom to grow each according to their own technology – but they are paid according to the yields. They try to grow as much mushrooms as possible in export quality, but if there is a mistake – they sell even the worst mushroom – never throw anything.
A total of 600 people work at the Głuchowski farm. By the way, there are pickers here from dozens of countries – most of them come from Ukraine and Central Asia – but there are also pickers from more exotic countries, for example, the Philippines, Guatemala. “It’s easier with them – because Ukrainian women want to go home sometimes, and they can easily change jobs. While in such unusual countries, contracts are for three years, they can stay in Poland only if they have a job, and do not like to fly home because it is far and expensive,” says the person who deals with human resources at the farm. There isn’t much rotation here. There are people from Ukraine who work for 15 years, there are people from the Philippines who work for 4 years without returning home.
Everything works like a machine. They have an excellent school for workers, including pickers. For new employees, there are presentations about the company so that employees know what a great place they work in. Those presentations also show how to navigate around the farm because it is huge. Separately, they have presentations specially for pickers – and a whole training system for them.
At Sopińscy farms, mushroom growers were fascinated by the fact that on a sunny day, all 90 working growing rooms (63,185 m2) receive electricity from solar panels. The area of all Sopińscy solar panels is equal to the area of 5 Olympic swimming pools. Probably when the new planned 18 rooms are erected in 2023 (in the place where they will be built now we see an electric pole – that’s why the construction has been delayed a bit and will only start this year) – the Sopińscy farm will be the largest in Europe. Mushrooms are sold throughout whole Europe.
As the farm director Kamil Jagiełło told us most of the pickers at the Sopińscy farms are from Ukraine. At the time of our visit, a total of 291 people worked as pickers, plus about 100 people with other specialties. They have several hotels for them. Two of them have family rooms (those are rooms for managers) – two people live in such rooms. There are 57 such rooms in total. UMDIS asked the owner of the farm, Mr. Wojtek, what is the most important thing to build and manage such a huge farm: “People and processes,” the owner smiled.
That time on this farm was tested the new Amycel spawn EXXalibur. It was between first and second flash. According to the pickers – in one room it was much easier for them to pick mushrooms as there were no clusters of mushrooms and they managed to work faster. But the experiment was already in progress.
Also, we saw an interesting thing on Mr. Mariusz’s farm. Loud music is playing here in the rooms where mushrooms are picked. “What are you doing this for?” – asked a participant of the tour from the “FH Leshchenko” farm. – “So that the pickers are not distracted from their work by talking. Moreover, it helps to keep the pace better. And also one picker who is in a bad mood – something hurts, or she is dissatisfied with something at work – did not transfer it to the whole group during the work process”, – we were told. The owners say that it helped them a lot to increase the farm productivity.
Another interesting thing about this farm is that above the highest shelves in each room, another “shelf” is made of transparent film – of course, without compost. This is used because, according to the owners, the mushrooms there have the same air access and climatic parameters for growth as on other shelves. Due to this, the mushrooms grow the same way as on the lower shelves. Mr. Mariusz’s farm has a patent for this invention.
Cooperatives have become a popular system of cooperation in Poland. Large cooperatives in Eastern Poland are GL Group and East Mushrooms. We met both. “We were a part of the GL Group, and in 2011 we left and formed our own cooperative,” shares Mr. Zbignev, talking about East Mushrooms. They now sell 2/3 of GL Group’s volume. In fact, it is a cooperative of one family, plus a couple of other farms, and suppliers from whom the mushroom is purchased. They buy about 30%. It is interesting that the farms grow as many mushrooms as the cooperative tells them. Although, there are specific grades of mushrooms – which are made in a specific quantity for the client who orders them – while there are such other grades that are so popular that it is not a problem to grow not 1000, but 1200 kilograms of such a grade. Anyway, they will be sold.
GL Group cooperative sells 450 tons of mushrooms every week (it grows them on about 60,000 m2). The group has clients from Western Europe, Poland, and Southern Europe. “The main thing is not to have good customers, but to have many customers,” says Mr. Damian, who deals with sales at GL Group. It does not happen that the cooperative cannot sell part of the mushroom – since it has a large customer base in different countries. Mushroom growers usually argue with cooperative about the price of a mushroom – here it is a stable normal situation to have such conversations with the members. Orders to farms are managed by the cooperative – the farms do not sell; they only deliver the mushroom to the cooperative where specialists sell it and after transaction transfers the funds.
The GL Group cooperative is large and very modern – with a beautiful office, fashionable vacuum refrigerators, a separate freezer house where frozen mushrooms are stored. By the way, it was built this year because they decided that demand and the situation in the world are so unstable that they want to increase the shelf life and, accordingly, the sale time of the mushroom just in case. The cooperative has a great logistics system, its own lorries, it produces boxes for itself and to order. It has conveyors and packaging machines. “We never have the car returned empty from the customer. We always find what and for whom to bring on the way back – thereby earning additional money for the cooperative,” Mr. Damyan shares with UMDIS.
You can view the trip program below:
December 13. Departure from the hotel at 8:40
9:30 – 11:30 Piotr Głuchowski, one of the largest mushroom farms in Europe
12:20 – 15:00 Wojtek, presentation of combines and lunch
15:10 – 16:00 Mr. Robert’s mushroom farm, 6 rooms
16:50 – hotel
December 14 Departure at 8:30
9:00-10:30 Sopińscy uprawa pieczarek, one of the largest mushroom farm in Europe
11:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Visit to Atmo-Control air conditioning equipment supplier
11:30 – 13:00 Mr. Pavel’s mushroom farm, 26 rooms
13:10 – 14:00 Lunch Zajazd Chodowiak:
14:10 – 16:00 Mr. Mariusz’s mushroom farm, 18 rooms
19:00 Atmo-Control dinner and consultations on climate equipment at the HETMAN hotel. Visit of Amycel representatives.
December 15 Departure at 8:30
9:20 – 11:00 Mr. Zbigniev’s mushroom farm, 26 rooms
11:20 – 13:00 GL Group Spółdzielnia, one of the largest cooperatives in Europe
15:00 – 17:00 Lunch at LAB-EL, presentation of computers for growing mushrooms
A tour in Warsaw city center