Mushroom farming is one of the most profitable agricultural businesses since it has a very low startup and operational cost. Mushrooms have fewer needs than almost every single other crop which reduces the number of special equipment and workers necessary. They also grow very fast – you can have a new crop ready in 1 to 2 months, depending on the species.
Starting up is also easy – you can technically do it in your pantry or your garage with minimal investment, and you could have an additional income very quickly. The best part is that growing mushrooms takes most of your time during “planting” and harvesting only, making it also very profitable if you calculate your income per hour of work.
How much money can I make growing mushrooms?
A pound of mushrooms retails for anything from $5 to $15, and that’s if we’re sticking to the ones that end up on people’s plates. Considering that a square foot of crop can produce up to 5 pounds of mushrooms, that means that even a small home setup can make you over 1k a month. In this scenario, that small operation is no more than a single set of shelves tucked into a dark corner somewhere.
This projection refers to direct sales, so there will be a decrease if you have to use a middleman. In that case, you can expect to get mostly between $1 to $5 per pound for standard edible mushrooms. Read this USDA report from 2019 to see more details. Keep in mind that it deals mostly with bulk pricing and not at all with small producers.
The exact amount will depend fully on the type of mushrooms that you’re growing, as well as the quality of the crop. And your profit will depend on your operational costs
To put it simply, you’ll make more money if you have a humble startup, have Mother Nature on your side, and pretty much work alone or keep it a family business. Still, if you have quite a bit of cash you can invest, you can get some fantastic profits if you play your cards right,
Budget Size $
A small budget limits you to species that are not too finicky to grow and/or the size of the production that you can handle on your own. Also, Mother Nature is your best friend if you have a very small budget.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t make good money if you fall into this category. For example, if you’re lucky enough to have a forest of oak, pine, poplar, birch, hazel, beech, or hornbeam tree on or near your property, you can take your trusted dog or a pig and go truffle hunting.
Though you are not very likely to find white truffles (which are literally worth their weight in gold but sadly can only be found in Italy), you can still make good money from taking a daily stroll. And you didn’t put any money down, to begin with. Though you may want to think of investing in a decent set of containers so they don’t go to waste once you bring them home.
It’s the same case if you want to use the nature around you to cultivate some mushrooms. In that case, all work is done by your environment, and you just need to harvest them when the time is right. However, pay attention to only choose species that are native to your ecosystem – introducing a new one may wreak havoc on it.
And watch out for how much your environment can handle. A lot of species of fungi are parasites and are slowly killing their hosts. So either do some population control or chose species that develop symbiotic relationships with other plants.
But if all you have is your pantry or your garage, you can still make it no matter how tight your startup budget is. All you will need is some shelves and a few plastic containers. That’s it for the hardware – just park it somewhere dark and you’re ready to go. Of course, you’re still limited to species that are very easy to grow this way. Think either button or enoki mushrooms – they may not be as exciting as others, but they are still profitable.
Budget Size $$
At this stage, you can start thinking about putting more money into your setup and/or dealing with more finicky species. This is also the stage where you can start growing some species that are used for medicinal purposes. And finally, we can talk about making your production bigger – big enough to create a proper source of income.
Don’t worry, we are still not talking about ridiculous amounts of money. You could start at $1000, or even less if you already have some of the items handy.
You will again need some containers and shelves for your crops, but there might be some other additions that you want to introduce to your setup. One of them is an electric pressure cooker for preparing your substrates. You can use a regular one as well, but an electric is more convenient since you can keep it in the growing room.
You may also want to consider getting some humidifiers. So many shrooms in one place will need more dampness than your garage may provide. If your budget is very tight after setting up everything else, pick up some clay. Clay is porous and absorbs moisture well, and then slowly re-releases it. You will have an extra chore, but it will do the trick until you’re ready to invest in something more efficient.
But making this little bit of extra effort and putting in some more money means that you can make a proper living from growing mushroom. Even 20 or so square feet can make for more than a decent paycheck no matter if you’re growing gourmet or medicinal mushrooms.
Budget Size $$$
Here we’re talking more or less about the same thing as in the previous two segments, but with fancier equipment.
If you can swing it, you may want to invest in mushroom growing chambers. These guys are usually glass or steel cabinets that are equipped with everything you need to create a perfect environment for growing any type of mushroom. You can set the perfect temperature, humidity, and even the ideal amount of UV rays for the species that need sunlight. But they are also quite expensive.
The cheapest available online come from Chinese or Indian suppliers, and even then you are looking at spending over $1000 or $2000 per unit (and that’s before shipping and customs). However, they may be a good investment if you plan to grow expensive medicinal fungi, like cordyceps for example. Since you can price them rather high, you will be able to recover your investment promptly.
As an additional benefit, you can grow several different species in the same room. So if you only plan to grow a few chamber-fulls in your garage, you don’t have to worry about spores going where they are not supposed to.
Budget Size $$$$
If you’re Martha Stewart, you can afford to plant a whole forest on your property just so you could have easy access to truffles. Or you can set up a literal factory and ship out metric tons each week.
Big investments can yield massive profits because of the sheer number of mushrooms you’re producing. You’ll still be making money whether you’re producing super fancy and expensive shrooms or the humble buttons. For a rough calculation, one acre of a setup this big can bring you a gross profit of a minimum of $50,000 per crop.
So, you’ll have to spend big on both your startup and operational costs. Obviously, growing a whole forest might be a step too far, but you will at least have to set up growing hangars, industrial machines, and personnel. And if you don’t own some land where you can set all that up, you’ll have to worry about that too.
Let’s talk about construction first. A concrete hangar is the best choice since it’s more likely to stay cool in warmer months. This (and some good insulation) can save you a ton of cash in the summer months. A lot of species of mushrooms are not too keen on very high temperatures, and a simple uninsulated structure made from metal is bound to cook them in August. Or at least the ones closest to the walls.
When it comes to the machines, there’s only a specialty harvester and other generic ones (like a conveyor belt or a packing machine) that you have to put on your shopping list. You may also need to invest in a system that maintains the perfect humidity in the building, and one that circulated fresh air through the hangar.
Finally, the number of working hands depends mostly on the size of production and the type of mushroom you’re growing. If you went for something a bit delicate where you can’t use the harvester, you will need to hire people who will pick the shrooms by hand. Of course, the types of mushrooms that need such special treatment usually have a higher price tag, so your profits should still be more than acceptable.
Taxes, fees, and other expenses
All of the estimates above address startup and operational costs. There will be other things you have to dish out some cash for, like licenses and registrations.
Check your state’s departments of business and agriculture for more details. Regulations vary from state to state, so get the latest info straight from the source.