CEO L. Bart Adams is the mushroom king of Utah, and he's growing his company's market while other farms retreat.
Adams is the farm's fifth owner, taking over as CEO after buying the business from his father and his father's business partner, James Mantle, in 2012.
"My father started as entry-level in 1982 and worked his way up to general manager after 10 years," says the younger Adams. The farm was initially funded with state incentives to employ refugees from Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and it still employs a few refugees today.
There's been a mushroom industry shakeout in recent years, with several operations shutting down. "It's a thin-margin business," Adams explains. "There are only so many farms. There are about 250 growers nationwide."
Mountain View sells to restaurants and food service with "very little" retail, says Adams. The original geographic market -- Salt Lake City and Denver -- has shifted west as farms in California shuttered and left a bit of a vacuum. Mountain View no longer distributes in Colorado, but the company has routes to California and Nevada. "One third of our business is in Las Vegas," Adams says.
But Mountain View's home state is its primary market. "If you're eating mushrooms at a restaurant in Utah, it's probably our mushrooms," he touts.
The farm's rural setting is a big plus for accessing its supply chain. "Most of our raw materials are byproducts of agriculture," says Adams, rattling off a list that includes wheat straw, chicken manure, and sugar beet lime. "We're kind of a cross between manufacturing and agriculture."
Mushrooms need about 12 weeks to grow before harvest. That process starts outside in composting piles for three weeks before the mushrooms go inside to a climate-controlled environment in the farm's 175,000-square-foot building -- it's 64 degrees F year-round -- to grow for 60 days. "We're at 64 degrees whether it's 10 below or 100 outside," says Adams. "Our biggest cost after payroll is utilities."
Mountain View harvests about 120,000 pounds of white button, cremini, portobello, and oyster mushrooms every week. "It's a 24/7 operation," says Adams. "The only day we don't pick mushrooms is Christmas day."
Revenue was up 22 percent in 2014, and Adams forecasts more growth in 2015. "We're on pace for about 15 percent this year," he says.
Challenges: "One challenge we've had for 10 years is disease," says Adams, citing verticillium as the most menacing mushroom malady. "We're turning the corner on that."
Spikes in energy prices are another because of the reliance on heating and air-conditioning. "As they go up, it's difficult," says Adams.
Opportunities: Better compost to get the 'shrooms started. "The key to composting is to get enough oxygen in there to keep decomposition going," says Adams, noting that the solution is putting pipes below the pile for better aeration. "It's a fairly expensive process," he adds -- but it's worth it for good compost. "It's your soil. It's got to be just right."
And Adams has recently discovered another opportunity in selling Mountain View's spent compost to local farms and landscapers. "It's a great soil amendment," he says. "We used to just dump it and now we're looking at bagging it and getting it into retail."
Mountain View is also mixing mushrooms with meat for bratwurst, chorizo, and other "blended meat” products it sells at the farm store. "The big benefits are flavor and health," says Adams. He sees a big potential market at schools.
Needs: "Having enough labor is big," Adams says. "And we need some capital improvements.." He says he's in the upgrading the control technology in the farm's growing rooms and is always investing in forklifts and loaders. "We're pretty rough on forklifts."