Researchers at Australia’s Queensland University of Technology (QUT) are rounding out the year with good news. They’ve been awarded $2.1 million to advance technologies aimed at expanding the country’s controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) exotic and native mushroom production. Driven in part by Australia’s burgeoning domestic demand for mushrooms and mushroom-based foods, the project is funded through the Future Food Systems Cooperative Research Centre and industry partner Kenon Corporation, Queensland’s largest exotic mushroom producer.
The researchers will focus on the following goals:
- Develop small-scale and mobile production modules to enable in-country CEA production.
- Reduce the need for mushroom imports.
- Source and develop Australian native mushroom production with industry partner.
- Develop mushroom substrate using Australia’s abundant biomass and organic waste.
- Develop new mushroom-based foods.
Associate Professor Zhanying Zhang, from QUT School of Mechanical, Medical and Process Engineering and Centre for Agriculture and the Bioeconomy, is the project lead. Co-researchers are Dr. James Strong, from QUT School of Biology and Environmental Science, and Professor YuanTong Gu and Yiman Sun from QUT School of Mechanical, Medical and Process Engineering.
Addressing demand for exotic and native mushrooms
As evidenced in the U.S. CEA mushroom market with companies such as B Corporation Smallhold and its recent expansion into Whole Foods Markets nationwide, mushrooms are booming in popularity. “There is a strong demand for locally produced exotic mushrooms because of the significant health benefits they offer to humans,” Zhang said.
“We propose the use of small-scale and mobile production modules with small spatial footprints to give growers more flexibility to grow different varieties under controlled conditions.”
Zhang noted that Australia’s mushroom market relies on expensive imports with limited availability. While streamlining cultivation, harvesting, packaging and distribution could help reduce costs and prices, the development of new technology to enable year-round production was key to reducing dependence on imports.
Developing new products for food security and sovereignty
“Australian mushroom growers rely on an overseas supply of pre-inoculated mushroom growth bags, which limits food security and sovereignty,” Zhang said. “To address this issue, we will develop local capability in producing mushroom liquid seed culture preparation methods to enable automation and large-scale production of mushrooms. This project will investigate the use of Australia’s abundant biomass and organic waste to create the substrate for mushrooms to grow on, which will lower risk of supply chain disruptions, such as those that resulted from COVID-19, and generate revenue for primary industries. This also solves waste disposal problems for the food and beverage industry.”
Zhang said the key to expanding the country’s mushroom industry was to add value and diversify into products such as bioactive extracts and meat-like products to create a new food manufacturing industry in Australia: “Replacing, or supplementing animal meat products with mushroom-based, meat-like products can help reduce the carbon footprint generated by the livestock industry.”
Kenon Corporation director Simon Tang added that Kenon considers QUT as their strategic partner. “We are excited to collaborate with Professor Zhang and the QUT team to achieve our business goals,” Tang said.
Images courtesy of QUT. Featured image, from left: Yiman Sun, Dr. James Strong, Kenon Corporation director Simon Tang, Associate Professor Zhanying Zhang.