Many UK mushroom businesses are so unsustainable that growers should consider diversifying into other crops or move out of farming altogether.
The industry could survive through greater integration, but producers are still too independently minded and lack the will to co-operate.
Those were the key findings when research body Warwick HRI examined the future viability of the UK’s 55,000 tonnes-a-year industry.
The work was carried out at the request of the dwindling number of growers in the country, who face increasing competition, escalating labour costs and falling prices.
Warwick HRI paints a picture of an industry in crisis. English mushroom production has fallen by a quarter in the last four years and now accounts for only 53% of sales in a £170m market.
Out of the 100 or so growers remaining in the UK, around a dozen account for 90% of the crop and half of these are owned by the Dutch or Irish.
Meanwhile, mushrooms have become little more than a commodity product. Retail prices of around £1.96/kg are the same as six years ago.
There is currently no room for UK growers to negotiate with retailers on price. They have to match prices for imports, mainly from Holland and Ireland, although Poland, with its cheap labour, is also supplying the UK.
David Shapley