Oil, propane cost whopping $100,000 in one winter month
By Brandy Harrison
OSGOODE When Mike Medeiros opened heating bills amounting to $100,000 last January, plans to expand his Osgoode mushroom farm screeched to a halt.
“February was the same thing. It was horrible. Its hampering our ability to expand,” says Medeiros, who runs Carleton Mushroom Farms Ltd. with his brother, Fernando Jr., his father, Fernando Sr., and his uncle, Fernando Oliveria. “It put us in a hole that were just starting to get out of.”
Carletons energy woes come on the heels of its biggest competitor filing for bankruptcy. Continental Mushroom in Metcalfe closed its doors in August after a persistent mould problem shrunk yields by 75 per cent.
The only other mushroom farm in Eastern Ontario, Champion Mushrooms in Moose Creek, caters to the niche market for oyster mushrooms. Its owner, Shu Lin, says rising energy costs are manageable so far.
While Carleton doubled in size last fall, Medeiros says with increased energy efficiency, they werent prepared for their combined monthly oil and propane bills to double when propane prices shot through the roof last winter.
Oil costs have also steadily climbed since the farm opened in 1984, says Medeiros, whose farm now supplies Produce Depot, Farm Boy, Whole Foods, independent grocery stores, and wholesalers with 90,000 to 100,000 lb. of mushrooms per week. “I remember back in the day we paid 19 cents a litre; now were upwards of $1.”
By October, energy costs were down to $25,000 per month, but for the last three years, theyve been feeling the pinch as one of the few mushroom farms in Ontario without natural gas.
Medeiros estimates that they pay three-quarters more for energy and says a similar-sized farm in Hamilton pays between $7,000 and $11,000 per month. “It just puts you at a disadvantage because the sale prices are the same.”
Theyve talked to natural gas provider Enbridge, but the utility recently told them it would cost $2 million to build a few kilometres of pipe to the existing natural gas station. They were to have another meeting with Enbridge in late November, with MP Pierre Poilievre in tow.
Medeiros doesnt believe theyll have to shut their doors, but efficiency can only go so far. Theyve locked in propane prices for winter, are converting a boiler from oil to propane, and are adding more insulation to older growing rooms, but Medeiros says theyve had to put another doubling of their operation on hold.
“Weve done everything possible.”