Sign up for our daily Newsletter and stay up to date with all the latest news!

Subscribe I am already a subscriber

You are using software which is blocking our advertisements (adblocker).

As we provide the news for free, we are relying on revenues from our banners. So please disable your adblocker and reload the page to continue using this site.

Click here for a guide on disabling your adblocker.

Sign up for our daily Newsletter and stay up to date with all the latest news!

Subscribe I am already a subscriber
Donal Gernon - Teagasc

“The very nature of mushroom picking is difficult to automate as they grow sporadically in clusters and are very sensitive"

Mushroom harvesting for the fresh market in the UK and Ireland is primarily done by hand, while in The Netherlands there is some mechanical harvesting for the cannery markets.

"It is very labour-intensive, each mushroom stalk must be cut by hand, placed in the punnet and weighed by the picker so it meets the required specification," explains Donal Gernon, Mushroom Advisor at Teagasc. "It is not a bad job and the working environment is good, but it can be tedious."

The growing side is already automated, it has moved on from the days of growbags on the floor to phase three Dutch shelving which is filled automatically, and the climate is automatically controlled.

"The very nature of mushroom picking is difficult to automate, as they grow sporadically in clusters and are very sensitive. They don't have a hard outer layer, making them very easy to damage and blemishes show up on the white surface of the mushroom. Also, the quality standards for mushrooms are very high and presentation is very important as they are often an impulse buy."

Traditionally pickers pick the mushrooms with their 'weak' hand and then trim the stock with their 'good' hand, the mushroom is then placed in the punnet which is then weighed. This one-handed picking process is done to avoid double handling the mushroom and ensure the highest quality standards are being achieved.

"Two-handed mushroom harvesting can only be done when a semi-automated system is installed. Theses semi-automated systems use a conveyor belt and an automatic trimming, placement and weighing process. This ensures minimal handling and can cut labour requirements by 50% allowing employers to pay better rates and the work more attractive."

"At the moment there are three growers in the UK with semi-automated systems and they are seeing positive results. The only difficulty is positioning the mushroom in the punnet, people like to see the top of the mushroom and not the underside, but human placement is hard to replicate."

Picking robots
Donal gave a seminar a few weeks ago on automating the mushroom sector, where two Canadian robotics companies showcased mushroom picking robots. One of these companies is now taking orders for the robots.

"There was a lot of interest from growers, but also a bit of reluctance and a lot of questions. It is still to be determined how effective these robots are and what the pick rates could be. It is a major investment for growers to go semi-automatic or fully automated, it would cost millions. Some of the smaller growers employ 50-100 staff while the bigger growers have 200-300, they all struggle to get pickers and sometimes mushrooms are left unharvested. There needs to be support for growers in terms of grants or funding to support automation.

Click here to visit the Teagasc Hort development department YouTube page, where you can view the different presentations from the event.

For more information:
Donal Gernon
Tel: +353-761114099
E-mail: [email protected]