Truffles as crops

dwheeler at dwheeler at
Sat Apr 11 13:27:18 EST 1998

The following article appeared in The Oregonian for March 26, 1998 in the
Metro South section:

Complications fail to thwart effort to develop truffle crop

of the Oregonain staff

	ESTACADA - Bruce mcCullough hopes to do a lot more than trifle with
	McCullough, 50, already aims for environmental-friendly management of his
family's 150-acre tree farm several miles from Eagle Fern Park.
	Calling himself "a left-wing environmentalist," he strives to keep a
healthy population of ladybugs and other natural predators of aphids and
assorted pests to avoid spraying chemicals on his 15 acres of Christmas trees.
And the farm is loaded with home-made bird boxes.
	"The first tree swallows arrived March 11," he said. "Western bluebirds
are a real treat, too."
	McCullough, who has a degree in zoology from Oregon State University, also
earns money in the summer doing songbird population surveys on federal land.
	Two years ago, he and a neighbor began studying how to grow truffles on
the farm as a new cash crop. Growing just below the surface among shallow tree
roots, truffles are a fungus resembling a small rubbery rock. Known for their
pungent odor as a food flavoring, truffles often wholesale for $50 a pound for
use by upscale restaurants and gourmets.
	But like so many nature-raised crops, you can't simply wander through the
woods with a garden rake, harvest a few pounds and sell them. If you wait too
long, will hungry voles and other wildlife devour the profits? If you harvest
too soon, will the truffles spoil before sale? And what about liability
insurance for a food product?
	However, the compliations aren't discouraging McCullough. "It's very labor
intensive, but it could happen," he said of developing a new crop. "It's an
extremely good product. They compare with the best ones grown in Europe.
Portland restaurants seem to be very pleased with them."
	Last fall, McCullough gathered and liquidifed hundreds of truffles into a
slurry. Then he used a backpack sprayer to inoculate the ground under the
first in a former Christmas tree plantation with the fungus spores. The effort
took about two months.
	"We understand that we could see small truffles in a year," he noted, "but
it will be two or three years before they reach commercial size - the size of
hazelnuts up to golfball."
	With farmers' logs so valuable since federal forests were locked up, the
last thing McCullough wants to do is damage his timber, which covers most of
the land. "I don't want to disturb root systems. The raking I do to dislodge
truffles is what varied thrushes do, scratching like chickens looking for
worms. So I'm not doing an obnoxious disturbance."
	There is a sense of urgency, though, in getting on with developing a crop.
	"People dabbling in truffles are being quiet," he observed. "Just like it
was with Christmas trees, the ones who get in first will do well."
	Mike Bondi, an Oregon State University Extension forestry agent based in
Oregon City, said a number of tree farmers have explored truffles as an
additional crop, "but the jury is still out on what needs to be done to make
it succeed."
	One place where truffles have been propagated for several years is the
Paul Bishop farm south of Oregon City, Bondi noted.
	If all goes well, McCullough said truffles would help support his only
son, Paco, 8, when he eventually takes over the farm.
	"When we thin a 30-year-old timber stand, each tree is worth $20 to $40 as
logs," he said. "If we got just a pound or two of truffles from under a tree,
it would be worth more than that."

Posted by Daniel B. Wheeler

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