Morel mushrooms in the NWT – mild panic ensues

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Rain in the air over the weekend and into this week may soothe some nerves among the NWT’s morel mushroom pickers.

The territory’s highways are developing a thin lining of parked vehicles, and campsites are popping up – but mushrooms, in many cases, are not.

Dry conditions so far are being blamed, and the slow start to the season is causing concern that earnings might not hit the giddy heights some had forecast in the build-up.

Monday’s News/North newspaper plastered its front page with talk of ‘overhyped’ prices. Buyers have told both the paper and Moose FM that prices are around $7 per pound right now, well short of some predictions of $12, $14 or more.

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Read more: Why does everyone expect so much from mushrooms this year?

When we spoke to Fort Providence mushroom buyer Jessica Minoza, she said: “Maybe $7 to start with.”

But Minoza also sounded unperturbed by the prospect of a disappointing season.

“Once prices go up, they usually don’t go back down. That’s what I’ve heard from buyers I spoke to last season,” she said.

“Last year, it was the same. People were like, ‘Oh my goodness, what do we do?’ You just had to be patient and once they were out it was like, boom, they were everywhere. And then the prices only got better.

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“Last summer, it hadn’t rained for a little while and it was June 3 before we saw our first morel mushroom. They just needed time to come out.”

Jessica Minoza: Fort Providence picker teams up with Edmonton chef

In the South Slave, the concern of local residents has been less the harvest, and more the harvesters.

Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen picked up on this in the legislature on Friday, saying her region faced a “mushroom rush” with nobody keeping tabs on workers heading up from the south.

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“Yes, this may generate a lot of money,” said Groenewegen. “But how much is it going to cost us when one campfire or one cigarette butt goes into our extremely dry forest and burns the Northwest Territories down?

“There is no registry. There is no place to sign in. We don’t know their names. We don’t know where they’re from. We don’t know who their next of kin are. There are all kind of dangers in the bush and that’s where these people are going to be operating and hanging out and camping.”

In full: Jane Groenewegen’s comments on OpenNWT

Industry minister David Ramsay, responding, said Groenewegen had a “valid point” regarding a registry for itinerant morel pickers – but he pointed out the economic benefits they brought with them.

Ramsay also maintained that the morel season could be worth $10 million or more, in the face of concerns that the harvest may peter out.

The territorial government’s own experts say it’s too early to tell. In another week or so, we might have a better idea whether this mushroom season is boom or bust.

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