Did 2015 live up to the pre-season hype that suggested it would produce the greatest morel mushroom harvest in world history?
The news in early 2015, in the world of morel mushroom hunting, was that this year was set to become the greatest mushroom harvest year ever. We joined the growing excitement ourselves. Well, now that the 2015 morel season is over, just how exactly did it pan out?
The general consensus - at least as far as anecdotal evidence indicates - seems to be that it was indeed a good year for many mushroom hunters. Social media was rife with comments and images from mushroom hunters who declared that they were enjoying big harvests and that this year was much better than it had been in recent years.
I personally concur with that assessment, as friends and I pulled significantly more morels this year and from areas in Wisconsin that were barren during the last several years.
One first-time picker in northern Idaho indicated that she had harvested at least 100 pounds of the prized fungi by early June. A local news source reported her experience to be common in that region as well.
However, the commercial market in the northeast regions of the U.S. and Canada, looks to have been something of a mixed bag. While quantities of morels harvested, bought and sold were solid, prices did not live up to expectations.
Canada's Northwest Territories (N.W.T.) is the "center of the universe," so to speak, for morel harvesting and commerce. The hype for this year's morel boom also brought more pickers into the fray than before.
John Colford, of the N.W.T. Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, confirmed that the influx of pickers and buyers was impressive this year.
"There were days," he said, "when I drove down that highway where I'm sure I saw at least 500, maybe 600 people out there."
The N.W.T. government published a mushroom harvester's guide before the season began, wherein it suggested that pickers might be able to sell their morels for $10 to $14 per pound, based on prices recorded for 2014. The reality this year, however, was that prices averaged between $5 and $8 per pound.
Still, Colford also offered his own anecdotal evidence that it was a successful year, indicating that many pickers he spoke with confirmed that they had made a profit from their efforts.
But there is little question that the publication of the N.W.T. mushroom harvester's guide set expectations very high, albeit unintentionally perhaps. The promising figures presented in the guide were calculated fairly enough, using prices documented in 2014 and comparing hectares of land burned in forest fires in 2013 to much larger areas of burned land in 2014. (Morels flourish in areas of burned land the year following the fire.)
So, the math was fair. But the numbers and prices presented in the guide were judged by many to be an expectation, not the potential they were meant to be. There were other factors this year that affected prices, including the large number of new pickers coming into the area on the perceived promise of easy riches.
Colford indicates that next year's handout will reflect the lessons learned during this season, in clarifying what numbers mean and explaining more clearly what pickers might expect, including the vagaries of trying to predict market prices ahead of time:
The marketplace is very fickle, and maybe we didn't emphasize that enough. But trying to nail down a future market price is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall.
While the bold claim that 2015 would be "the greatest morel mushroom harvest in the history of the world" may not have proven true as it concerned the economic return for commercial mushroom pickers, it does nevertheless appear to have been a great year for mushroom hunters in general.
It is impossible to accurately calculate the total poundage or quantity of morels harvested this spring and summer, but there is no question that a great many people enjoyed a banner year, with impressive harvests providing countless delicious meals across the U.S. and Canada.
What will the 2016 morel mushroom harvest be like? That's the million dollar question, isn't it?
From what I've been able glean there are a whole lot of people out there who are expecting big things next year too. The excitement from this year's successful harvest will no doubt carry over into next spring, with many pickers chomping at the bit once again as spring approaches.
My advice is to "think positive" and be ready for another banner year. After all, it never hurts to be prepared or to cultivate a positive attitude.
Most important of all, read my 10 Tips for Harvesting Morel Mushrooms and start dreaming of all the ways you're going to prepare those coveted, delectable fungi come early spring.
Images from Creative Sustenance