Business Insider: Labor Shortages Hamper Kennett Square Mushroom Industry

man in red t-shirt
Image via Business Insider.
Chris Pietro, President of Pietro Industries.

The Kennett Square mushroom industry should be booming. The popularity of the edible fungi, always prominent, gained traction with stay-at-home chefs during the pandemic. But it’s teetering on the edge of a financial collapse. Business Insider examined why.

In short, the agribusiness faces a serious labor shortage.

Mushroom growing requires a deft personal touch. From laying down compost to harvesting the crops, little to any of the tasks involved can be mechanized.

In addition, the toughening of U.S. immigration laws has slowed the arrival of potential laborers.

And those who do arrive seeking employment are often lured to other positions — landscaping, construction — with shorter hours and better pay.

With few options left for crops, farmers have been “steaming off” their growing rooms, flooding the structures with scalding water vapor to kill growing mushrooms.

The economic hit can be disastrous.

Chris Pietro, President of Pietro Industries (and a third-generation mushroom farmer) estimates his failure to harvest ripe mushroom crops costs him $40,000 a week.

“If this continues,” he said, “farmers will either have to reduce their scale and fill less growing rooms, or they will eventually have to shut down.”

More on the problems facing the Kennett Square mushroom industry is at Business Insider.