A large grant, awarded to Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, will support an interdisciplinary, multi-university team of researchers who will investigate technologies designed to address labor shortages on mushroom farms. The grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, is significant for Pennsylvania as the commonwealth grows approximately two-thirds of the nation’s Agaricus (or white button) mushrooms.
According to John Pecchia, associate research professor of plant pathology and environmental microbiology and director of Penn State’s Mushroom Research Center and Mushroom Spawn Lab, these mushrooms are among the most popular varieties among consumers.
A recent study led by Kathleen Sexsmith, assistant professor of rural sociology at Penn State, showed that mushroom farms are short by as much as 20% of the ideal number of workers needed to complete these tasks. Making this situation more pressing is that many of the nation’s long-time mushroom farms are not designed to adopt automated technologies that have been gaining acceptance in Europe, placing the nation’s growers at a competitive disadvantage.