Growing Mushrooms on Local Agricultural Byproducts

April 19, 2018

Mushroom-growing seems to be increasing in popularity for producers who are looking to diversify their crop production strategy. The value of sales for commercially-grown specialty mushrooms in 2015-2016 totaled $95 million, an increase of 30 percent from the 2014-2015 season (USDA-NASS, 2016). Wakarusa Valley Farm is a family farm that cultivates organic vegetables, fruits, and mushrooms in Lawrence, Kansas. They wanted to see if they could grow mushroom substrate locally instead of purchasing and shipping their substrate from Colorado, so Wakarusa farmer, Mark Lumpe, applied for and received an $11,319 NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher grant to experiment with growing mushroom substrate. 

Ultimately, the project team trialed four different mushroom varieties on six different substrate combinations. Their findings favored a sunflower-based substrate grown locally, according to Lumpe, for the following reasons: 

  • Sunflower was easier to grow to a mature state than corn; it grew well on less fertile soil and responded well to drier conditions.
  • Sunflower out-competed weeds better than corn.
  • When planted too thickly, sunflower still produced a good crop whereas corn suffered from plantings that were sown too thickly.  
  • Sunflower heads were easier to harvest than corn ears, from a manual harvest perspective.
  • After some experimenting, they found that they could use the entire sunflower head as a mushroom growing substrate by putting it through a small wood chipper.

“We were able to produce the sunflower substrate for 38 cents per pound, a competitive price for substrate,” reported Mark Lumpe. “This substrate is better, cleaner, fresher, and less likely to cause contamination in our cultivation process than the dusty, partially milled shell we had been getting from the mill in Colorado.”

For more information on Lumpe’s NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher grant project, visit the SARE project reporting website or contact the NCR-SARE office.

View Mark Lumpe's presentation on this project from the 2016 Farmer's Forum, through NCR-SARE's Youtube playlist. Visit for this and other videos. 

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Topics: Mushrooms
Related Locations: North Central