Lehigh's College of Business is taking part in a project that was awarded a $7 million Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture titled “Focusing on Novel Pest and Disease Management Strategies for U.S. Mushroom Farms.”
Insect pests, mold and virus diseases are recurring problems on mushroom farms causing the loss of 10% to 15% of mushroom crops in the U.S. each year. Conventional and organic growers have an urgent need for new technology, basic science, outreach and management strategies for mushroom pests and diseases.
Led by Penn State University, the four-year project involves researchers and extension personnel from five universities. The team is comprised of diverse professionals with broad expertise including plant pathologists, computer scientists, mushroom scientists and economists.
Lehigh Business will be represented by Phil Coles, teaching associate professor, decision and data analytics department—Coles has worked in the mushroom industry for over 40 years—and Todd Watkins, professor of economics and executive director of the Martindale Center for the Study of Private Enterprise.
“We are the only business economics researchers on the team,” said Coles. “Nobody’s tried to model the whole ecosystem from an economic optimization point-of-view. The goal is to provide a clear path to the solutions that are economically feasible.”
“The USDA is moving in the direction of trying to push research teams to include a broader set of skills, including the social sciences and business,” said Watkins. “Research is moving out of the laboratories into the marketplaces, focusing on the whole circular economy life cycle of all of the elements of the process — the supply chain, end-of-life reuses, efficiency, energy use and sustainability issues.”
The USDA said this project is part of a new effort to further support the U.S. specialty crops sector and increase the competitiveness of its products to build new, more and better markets that catalyze opportunity for American farmers.
U.S. mushroom farms support more than 21,000 jobs and $864 million in compensation, while contributing $3.3 billion to the economy, according to the American Mushroom Institute.
The four-year award to Lehigh Business totals $302,026.