Many of us look forward to spring as the season of renewal: longer days, warmer weather, barbecues, and the comfort of hitting the rifle range without getting mild frostbite on our fingers. For mushroom hunters, however, there is another reason to greet the season—morels. And this year, if you live anywhere close to northwestern Canada, you can be a part of what has been predicted as the world’s biggest morel harvest. According Smithsonian.com, a devastating brush fire in the Northwest Territories (NWT) has resulted in a huge crop of morels estimated at more than $100 million. Mushroom lovers are already licking their lips in anticipation, but so are pickers who are geared to sell their morels for big profits.
“This is going to be the biggest morel harvest in the history of the world,” veteran morel picker Walter Brown told the Northern Journal.
Brown addressed a group of his fellow pickers earlier this month in Fort Smith as communities near the 75-mile stretch of burnt forest plan their upcoming expeditions. According to Brown, an experienced picker could harvest more than $500 worth of morels a day. Last year, the best pickers cleared up to a $1,000 daily and contributed more than $1.5 million to the local economy. That is because morels are expensive. Chefs and morel lovers are more than willing to shell out the big bucks for so-called “burn morels,” which must be sold either dried or quickly after picking to ensure freshness. Many pickers find buyers online, while others sell them in farmer’s markets or directly to private buyers.
Canada is not the only place where morel hunters are digging out their old mushroom knives and buckets. Here in Michigan, morel season begins in about a month. Depending on where you live and how much you intend to harvest, you may need to acquire a permit. Commercial pickers see it as a cheap down payment for what could be a windfall this year. According to Brown, the market is booming and interest is so high that provincial agencies have begun educating people on how to properly pick and dry morels. The selling price can vary greatly, especially on an international market, but on average a pound of morels can sell for $10 to $12.
“The world market is never satisfied, so if you have morels, you will always be able to sell,” Brown said.
Demand for morels was so insatiable last year that California officials reported that people were smuggling thousands of pounds of morels out of state forests. In 2014, officials declared areas of Stanislaus National Forest too dangerous for mushroom pickers, yet that did not stop many from venturing into the forest for a chance at burn morels. The same will not be happening in the NWT’s boreal forests, where government officials are reaching out to communities to make sure the morel harvest goes smoothly. In fact, the local department of Industry, Tourism and Investment is encouraging buyers to set up markets near the hottest picking zones.
For mushroom lovers, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.
Featured image is public domain