On 16 and 17 February, the annual SAMFA conference was held at the Leriba Lodge in Centurion, Pretoria. One of the participating European companies was Harte Peat from county Monaghan, Republic of Ireland. David Austin, sales manager of the Irish company, has made the following impression.
By David Austin, Harte Peat
Whilst South Africa hosts the 2010 World Cup in a few weeks, this event had to take second stage recently in Johannesburg, where SAMFA (South African Mushroom Farmers Association) held their annual Mushroom congress. This two day event during the 16th and 17th of February turned out to be a great success and the congress committee, chaired by Mr Ross Richardson, is to be commended on its organisational skills, choice of venue, speakers and lecture topics. Sixty five delegates registered for the event, with Holland and Ireland represented along with growers from all over South Africa.
The Conference opened up with a warm welcome to everyone by Ross Richardson, who handed over chairman duties to the inimitable Roddy Cairns of Denny Mushrooms. Roddy ran proceedings with the precision of a Swiss timekeeper and still managed to try to sell some JoJo tanks! Helen Grogan of Teagasc Research Centre, Ireland opened up the lectures with the topic of disease identification and control, specifically Cobweb and Green Mould (Trichoderma sp.) The devastating effect on yield, epidemiology and methods of treatment and prevention of disease were discussed. Although a good and selective compost is of utmost importance, the three main points were hygiene, hygiene and hygiene!!
Bank of knowledge
Next up was Professor Lise Korsten of the Department Plant Pathology at the University of Pretoria. Lise gave us a synopsis of the history of the research that has been carried out to date and future projects envisaged by her and her team. An emphasis was also put on the bank of knowledge that has built up in recent years in the team of people involved and in keeping these people involved in the industry. Another point of interest was the collaborative role of research in the international mushroom scene, with ongoing communication between the University of Pretoria and other facilities worldwide as part of the Global Diagnostic Project.
Dr Linda Meyer then demonstrated this knowledge with an in depth look at PCR diagnostic methods for diseases, and how the University can help growers at a practical level in terms of identifying diseases, source of diseases and therefore control measures.
The morning’s session was wrapped up by Ms Ronel Clark of ESKOM (South Africa’s Electricity Supply Company) who lectured on the importance of having an energy efficient strategy in place. This topic was spoken about later on in the conference and it is interesting to note that in Europe and elsewhere we take electricity for granted, but in South Africa where demand greatly out strips supply, it is a big problem and getting bigger!
Delegates then retired to lunch in the salubrious surroundings of Chapters Restaurant, where an excellent buffet was on offer.
After lunch the opening talk was given by Mrs Riana Greenblo, SAMFA PR, of Riana Greenblo Communications. Riana gave a report to delegates on the promotional activities carried out by SAMFA over the past year and this proved to be an excellent lecture in terms of what was completed on a “relatively” small budget. Cooking demonstrations, recipe books, even mushroom festivals were all detailed. Mushroom associations throughout the world could do worse than to take note of the level of PR activity and generic mushroom promotion that has been carried out to date.
The final lecture of the day was presented by Mr Ge Wijnands of Topterra, who, despite missing his beloved Carnaval, gave an excellent lecture on casing soil. Ge spoke first about how different types of peat was formed (fen peat versus sphagnum peat), how casing soil should be prepared before putting it on the compost and finally then touched on the topic of the future of peat supplies. So with Ge having given “Oranje” hats to all delegates, it is fair to say that the day ended on a colourful note!!
As most readers and attendees to Mushroom conferences will know, the actual “business” part of the conference commences with the evening social function and The Leriba Lodge was no different!
Sylvan generously sponsored a drinks reception, and whilst the threatened thunderstorms forced a last minute changed from traditional South African “Braai” to traditional South African “Buffet” it did nothing to dampen the spirit of the delegates. New friendships were formed and old friendships renewed and a wonderful night was had by all. A well travelled bottle of Whiskey was raffled for charity with James McLaren of Denny Mushrooms claiming the prize. Roddy Cairns was awarded a lifetime membership of SAMFA for his enormous contribution to the industry over the years.
The next morning it was back to the conference hall for the opening lecture - “Outlook for the South African and International Economies” – given by Dr Azar Jammine, an eminent South African economist and as one delegate summarised, he “managed to make a very boring subject very interesting!” Dr Jammine spoke about the high levels of government debt and how it should be serviced and also focussed on the need for education and up skilling of the labour force.
Next up was Mr Mel O’Rourke, Managing Director of Sylvan Europe. Mel gave a very good presentation entitled “Update on European Mushroom Industry”. The strength and recent development of the Polish industry stood out, but key point to note and to be wary of, was the increasing control of the mushroom market by supermarket buyers which has lead to consolidation at all levels of the industry.
Dr Helen Grogan then returned to the podium with a lecture on Mushroom Virus X – Epidemiology and Control. A detailed an in depth case study of a farm in UK which suffered from high levels of virus X. She explained the complexity of the disease including the difficulties to control the disease.
Lack of compliance
The last lecture of the conference saw the return of Prof Lise Korsten who spoke to delegates about Food Safety and Mushroom Standards. What was of note was the amount of regulation and legislation, but also the general lack of compliance. Prof Korsten also included in her presentation an excellent slide show of photographs of a snowbound Washington DC, recently taken, whilst attending “Consumer Goods Forum and as part of the Global Food safety initiative”.
Ross Richardson, who was chairing the morning’s session, wrapped up proceedings with a warm thanks to all attendees, delegates, sponsors and trade show exhibitors alike. An excellent lunch was once again served, this time in the garden – in the shade!
In conclusion, SAMFA Congress and its organizing and academic committee have once again excelled themselves in putting together a most successful event. Ross Richardson, Roddy Cairns and Martmari Van Greuning are to be highly commended for their efforts and they have actually raised the bar for all other associations to follow suit. It is fair to say that all delegates enjoyed themselves and for sure everyone took home something worthwhile.
Part of the Samfa Conference was also a farm walk. Wattlewood farm, part of Country Mushrooms, was visited. The farm consists of 27 growing rooms of 300 m2 each and produces around 25 tonnes of mushrooms weekly. Each week 3 growing rooms are filled with phase II compost, made in a traditional style at the farm’s own compost yard. The farm was started in 1986 and was modernized and expanded several times until it has reached the current size. The company uses TopTerra casing soil from the Netherlands and Sylvan A15 spawn. Packing is done on site, so it was an interesting visit combining several aspects of the mushroom industry: growing, composting and packing.
If you are interested in photos of the event, please take a look at the photo series.