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Almond Hull Byproducts as a Casing Amendment Material in Mushroom Cultivation

By Allison Flynn and William Orts, Bioproducts Research Unit, Western Region Research Center, US Dept. of Agriculture; and Andy Lam, Omnis Mineral Technology, LLC   Until recently, almond hulls have been sold almost exclusively as cattle feed, prized for both its caloric value as well as its fiber. However, the almond industry has been growing at a rate of 20% per year for the last five years, 20 with an annual yield of 4.3 billion pounds of hulls. During the same period, the California drought has reduced the number of dairies in the state by more than 11%. Thus, the market demand for almond hulls has fallen significantly, creating an opportunity for new and creative uses of this versatile, renewable material. Full story from Mushroom News: ALMOND HULL BYPRODUCTS AS A CASING AMENDMENT MATERIAL IN MUSHROOM (AGARICUS BISPORUS) CULTIVATION     Most commercial mushroom casing consists of peat moss (Sphagnum peat), generally neutralized with calcitic chalk (CaCO3), lime (CaOH), or beet lime, a byproduct of sugar extraction from sugar beets. The required physical and chemical properties of an effective casing are relatively specific, including high water-holding capacity, evenly distributed pore space for good gas exchange, a balanced mineral content with specific nitrogen ranges, the ability for pH to be adjusted to 7.2-8.2 and relative sterility.22   Although a wide range of casing materials have been explored, including paper pulp,12 waste paper,13 sugar cane residues14-16 and a range of other agriculturally-derived residues and coproducts,3-11 Sphagnum peat is well-suited for this application because it is naturally anti-fungal and exhibits the appropriate water-holding capacity and pH maintenance. In addition to casing mushrooms to promote fruiting, it has been shown that mushrooms prosper with the introduction of some pseudomonad species to balance optimal fruiting yield,18,19 but that fungal infections with this method are a constant concern. From this point of view, it would be advantageous to find other casing amendments that promote fruiting growth without the risks associated with additional microbial species.     Almond hulls contain about 30% soluble sugars and 70% fiber. Approximately 80% of the world’s supply of almonds is produced in the U.S., almost entirely in California’s San Joaquin and Sacramento Valley regions.1 Until recently, almond hulls have been sold almost exclusively as cattle feed, prized for both its caloric value as well as its fiber. However, the almond industry has been growing at a rate of 20% per year for the last five years,20 with an annual yield of 4.3 billion pounds of hulls.21 During the same period, the California drought has reduced the number of dairies in the state by more than 11%.24,25 Thus, the market demand for almond hulls has fallen significantly, creating an opportunity for new and creative uses of this versatile, renewable material.    The objective of this research was to investigate the use of spent almond hulls as a casing additive for Agaricus fruiting. After removing the sugar, the spent almond hulls have many of the characteristics of Sphagnum peat. Spent hulls are fibrous with a water-holding capacity of up to 500% the original mass with both absorption and adsorption properties.1 In addition to the water-holding capacity, we hypothesize that the additional porosity will improve the peat casing layer, allowing faster mycelium colonization leading to increased yield per flush.  Almond hulls were provided by RPac Almonds in Los Banos, CA. Extraction of sugars from the hulls was carried out using aqueous extraction methods described elsewhere.1 Fibrous material was collected, dried and autoclaved to remove native microbial populations. Spent almond hulls were then milled to 8 mm (granular) and 200 mm (powder) screen mesh size and then mixed with Sphagnum peat casing formulations. Both almond hull concentrations in peat and particle size were evaluated against a 100% Sphagnum peat moss casing control.  Mushroom fungi (Agaricus bisporus), compost and lime, and Sphagnum peat moss were provided by Premier Mushrooms, Colusa, CA. Compost was laid out into traylike mushrooming pots to a depth of 6 inches. Roughly 600 grams (total dry weight) of specific casing was mixed with 1800-2000 mL of water to bring moisture content to 75-78%. Casing formulations were prepared as follows: In order to adjust the pH level to 7.8, approximately 200 grams of lime (CaO or CaOH) was added to each of the casing formulations. A casing inoculum (113 grams) of mycelia was mixed into each casing formulation before laying the casing down evenly onto the surface of the compost. The temperature and relative humidity were maintained according to industry standards. Ventilation using a fan was provided to induce fruit-body formation when the mycelium reached the surface of the casing layer. Casing moisture content was measured throughout the experiment. To evaluate the efficacy of almond hulls in casing, mushrooms were harvested when the overall average diameter of caps reached 7 centimeters across or when the veils began to open.            METHODS RESULTS & DISCUSSION   Results are preliminary but encouraging. Water absorption of almond hulls is comparable to Sphagnum peat moss (Fig. 1). Moisture content in casings that included spent almond hulls was maintained or increased compared to the Sphagnum control (Fig. 3).    Mycelial growth and pinning were improved in casing that contained almond hulls milled to 8 mm mesh size (granular) and 200 mm (powder) when used in conjunction with peat moss (Tables 1, 2 and Fig. 4, 5). Mycelial growth in casing made with 100% granular (80 mm mesh size) showed excellent mycelial growth but pinning either did not occur or was aborted (Tables 1, 2 and Fig. 4, 5). Casing containing 20% granular spent almond hulls as an adjunct in Sphagnum peat moss doubled the fruiting mass and number (Tables 1,2 and Fig. 4-6).   SHAPE  \* MERGEFORMAT     The marked difference in the behavior of Agaricus growth and fruiting in casings made with spent almond hulls milled to different sizes and used in different ratios with Sphagnum peat moss merits further investigation.   There seems to be a “sweet spot” in terms of the physical size and ratio of hulls to peat moss. On the one hand, the adsorption nature of the hulls is diminished upon excessive milling, and casing made with 100% powdered hulls collapses, providing no structure for aeration. On the other hand, the improved porosity of casing with granular hulls also changes the nature of the casing. When used alone, mycelium grew quickly throughout the granular casing, but this material dries out due to wicking, and any pinning that occurred was aborted. It is conceivable that once optimized, spent almond hulls can be used to improve growth and increase yield in Agaricus production.       REFERENCES 1. Holtman et al. 2015. Countercurrent extraction of soluble sugars from almond hulls and assessment of the bioenergy potential. J Agric Food Chem. 63(9). 2. Flegg, P. B., The casing layer in the cultivation of the mushroom (psalliota hortensis) Journal of Soil Science 1956, 7 (1), 168-176. 3. Zervakis, G.; Philippoussis, A.; Ionnidou, S.; Diamantopoulou, P., Mycelium growth kinetics and optimal temperature conditions for the cultivation of edible mushroom species on lignocellulosic substrates. Folia Microbiologica 2001, 46 (3), 231-234. 4. Verma, A.; Singh, A.; Mathur, N., Bioremediation of environmental and agricultural lignocellulosic waste through mushroom cultivation. International Journal of Chemical Sciences 11 (1), 399-409. 5. Thongklang, N.; Luangharn, T., Testing agricultural wastes for the production of Pleurotus ostreatus. Mycosphere 7 (6), 766-772. 6. Regina, M.; Paccola-Meirelles, L. D.; De Melo Barbosa, A.; Amador, I. R.; Andrade-Nobrega, G. M.; Maschiare, D. C., Corncob and active charcoal in the Laccase and Basidiome production of Pleurotus sp. Semina: Ciencias Agrarias 33 (1), 39-48. 7. Philippoussis, A. N.; Diamantopoulou, P. A.; Zervakis, G. I., Correlation of the properties of several lignocellulosic substrates to the crop performance of the Shiitake mushroom Lentinula edodes. World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology 2003, 19 (6), 551-557. 8. Naraian, R.; Srivastava, J.; Garg, S. K., Influence of dairy spent wash (DSW) on different cultivation phases and yield response of two Pleurotus mushrooms. Annals of Microbiology 61 (4), 853-862. 9. Lin, Q.; Long, L.; Wu, L.; Zhang, F.; Wu, S.; Zhang, W.; Sun, X., Evaluation of different agricultural wastes for the production of fruiting bodies and bioactive compounds by medicinal mushroom Cordyceps militaris. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 97 (10), 3476-3480. 10. Ayodele, S. M.; Okhuoya, J. A., Cultivation studies on Psathyrella atroumbonata Pegler. A Nigerian edible mushroom on different agro industrial wastes. International Journal of Botany 2007, 3 (4), 394-397. 11. Adedokun, O. M., Oyster mushroom: Exploration of additional agro-waste substrates in Nigeria. International Journal of Agricultural Research 9 (1), 55-59. 12. Eicker, A.; van Greuning, M., Economical alternatives for topogenous peat as casing material in the cultivation of Agaricus bisporus in South Africa. South African Journal of Plant and Soil 1989, 6 (2), 129-135. 13. Sassine, Y. N.; Ghora, Y.; Kharrat, M.; Bohme, M.; Abdel-Mawgoud, A. M. R., Waste Paper as an Alternative for Casing Soil in Mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) Production. Journal of Applied Sciences Research 2005, 1 (3), 277-284. 14. Reka, R.; Sreeramulu, K. R., Effect of potassium solubilizing microorganisms on degradation of Paddy straw and spent mass of mushroom. Ecology, Environment and Conservation 22 (2), 925-929. 15. Pineda-Insuasti, J. A.; Ramos-Sãnchez, L. B.; Soto-Arroyave, C. P.; Freitas-Fragata, A.; Pereira-Cruz, L., Growth of Pleurotus ostreatus on non-supplemented agro-industrial wastes. Revista Tecnica de la Facultad de Ingenieria Universidad del Zulia 39 (1), 414-421. 16. Gaitán-Hernández, R.; Zavaleta, M. A. B.; Aquino-Bolaños, E. N., Productivity, physicochemical changes, and antioxidant activity of shiitake culinary-medicinal mushroom Lentinus edodes (Agaricomycetes) cultivated on lignocellulosic residues. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms 19 (11), 1041-1052. 17. Gulser, C.; Peksen, A., Using tea waste as a new casing material in mushroom (Agaricus bisporus (L.) Sing.) cultivation. Bioresource Technology 2003, 88 (2), 153-156. 18. Rodriguez Estrada, A. E.; Jimenez-Gasco, M. d. M.; Royse, D. J., Improvement of yield of Pleurotus eryngii var. eryngii by substrate supplementation and use of a casing overlay. Bioresource Technology 2009, 100 (21), 5270-5276. 19. Pardo, A.; A.J., d. J.; Pardo, J.; Pardo, J. E., Assessment of different casing materials for use as peat alternatives in mushroom cultivation. Evaluation of quantitative and qualitative production parameters Spanish Journal of Agricultural Research 2004, 2 (2), 267-272. 20. Almond Board of California; Almond Almanac 2017, Annual Report. 21. Almond Board of California; Growing Good, Sustainability 2017. Almond_Sustainability_2017.pdf 22. D. Cunha Zied, A. Pardo-Giménez, M.T. de Almeida Minhoni a, R.L. Villas Boas c, M. Alvarez-Orti d, J.E. Pardo-González. Characterization, feasibility and optimization of Agaricus subrufescens growth based on chemical elements on casing layer. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences (2012) 19, 343–347. 23. MCT Compass, A complimentary service of MCT Dairies, Inc. Feb. 28, 2017. 24. Karen Ross, Secretary. California Department of Food and Agriculture. California Dairy Statistics Annual 2017 Data. 25. Karen Ross, Secretary. California Department of Food and Agriculture. California Dairy Statistics Annual 2014 Data.        
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US Trade Mitigation Package for Almonds Announced

MODESTO, Calif. – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced the provisions for almonds to participate in the Market Facilitation Program (MFP), which is a direct payment program for eligible almond growers. The MFP is one of three programs in the $12 billion mitigation package announced in July by the USDA to address damages suffered by agricultural industries as a result of trade retaliatory measures imposed in a number of export markets. “We appreciate efforts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to work out the necessary details to provide direct payments to almond growers to help ease the pain of the retaliatory tariffs imposed by China and Turkey,” said Elaine Trevino, President and CEO of the Almond Alliance of California. “Direct payments will help offset the impact of the retaliatory tariffs already being felt by almond growers in California.” Producers of almonds can now sign up for the Market Facilitation Program (MFP), which is established under the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) and administered by the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA). MFP payments are based on 3 cents per edible meat weight pound of almonds and are limited to a $125,000 cap per person or legal entity. Eligible applicants must also have an average adjusted gross income for tax years 2014, 2015 and 2016 of less than $900,000. “While the mitigation initiatives are helpful, they will not approach the anticipated economic losses and long-term impact these retaliatory tariffs will have on our trade relationships and the considerable investments made in these key markets over the years," said Julie Adams, Vice President of Global Trade, Regulatory and Government Affairs at the Almond Board of California. “We remain hopeful for a quick resolution to ensure open and fair trade so consumers around the globe can continue to enjoy California almonds." Producers may apply for MFP beginning September 24, 2018, through January 15, 2019, however payments will only be made after an eligible producer has harvested 100% of their crop and provided appropriate documentation verifying their production. How to Apply: USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will administer the Market Facilitation Program (MFP) to provide payments to almond growers. The sign-up period for MFP is now open and runs through January 15, 2019. Information and instructions are provided at applications can be completed at a local FSA office or submitted electronically by email or fax. The Almond Board is working with the Almond Alliance to develop further details on the program, including program eligibility criteria and how to apply. This information will be distributed shortly to almond industry members; in addition, workshops for almond growers regarding program participation are now being scheduled and will be announced shortly. More Information: For more information about the MFP program, visit or contact your local FSA office. To find your local FSA office, visit
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