Mushroom grower vows to carry on in dark times

Simon Cooper crops five day old large flat and cup mushrooms, Gedney Hill.'Photo (TIM WILSON): SG110112-155TW
Simon Cooper crops five day old large flat and cup mushrooms, Gedney Hill.'Photo (TIM WILSON): SG110112-155TW
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SIMON Cooper is possibly the only small grower of mushrooms left in this district as he says the rest have “seen the light” and moved on to other crops.

However, Simon is still growing mushrooms in six large, dimly-lit sheds on his farm at Gedney Hill, something he has done at R & S R Cooper since he took over from his father in about 1976.

“Growers such as myself are a rare breed,” said Simon. “I am the only fool left in this area.

“Everyone else has packed up and seen the light and gone into something else. There are not many small mushroom growers and there used to be several and they have all closed down.”

The difficulty is that fungi are prone to all sorts of airborne diseases, and it is only the larger producers that can afford to create the right environment and install the filtration and other equipment to ensure a healthy crop.

Instead, Simon (53), who hopes the farm will continue until his retirement, has to take extreme measures to create the sterile, healthy environment in which the mushrooms flourish ready to be sold at farm shops, restaurants and to wholesalers.

It is a year-round crop, with mushrooms growing continuously on a 12-week cycle, and sheds filled fortnightly with compost blocks containing the spores which are laid into beds.

‘Fruiting’ is initiated with a peat dressing and 12 weeks later white cultivated mushrooms will have grown through the compost ready for cropping. Before the cycle starts again, everything has to be thoroughly cleaned out and the sheds sterilised ready for a new crop.

Simon explained: “We used to be able to use fungicides and that would combat the diseases but it is no longer any good at the job and there are not enough growers left for the chemical companies to invest in new products.

“That’s if people are willing to use them with the emphasis on fewer chemicals being used.

“My days are numbered. The costs are so great and the competition is so cheap. I think the business ends with me.”