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Reefers Control Temperatures K&G Moves Fresh Mushrooms to Market

Mushrooms grow indoors under strict temperature control. After harvest, they spend several hours in a cooler before loading into refrigerated trucks.

"Temperature is the most critical part of the whole mushroom business," says Doug Dezeng, maintenance and purchasing manager of K&G Mushrooms in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, Canada. "Proper temperatures must be maintained in the growing room, cooler, and truck."

Mushrooms must be raised with patience and care, Dezeng adds. Highly perishable, they have a shelf life of only five to seven days under ideal conditions after harvest. "We pick them one day and deliver them the next," he says.

Temperature control starts even before seeding. First, K&G produces the compost they grow in. Compost is formulated straw and fertilizers, pasteurized at 140 degrees F. K&G now processes compost in-house, using an outside compost wharf.

"We are building a new plant with advanced technology for producing compost," he says. "This should increase our production by 60%. The new facility will allow us to use all the growing rooms in our current facility to raise mushrooms."

K&G hopes the new processing system will result in distribution expansion. Currently, it delivers mostly to grocery stores in western Canada. But demand exists for expansion into the United States, Dezeng says. Within the next three to four years, K&G plans to add a few tractors and refrigerated trailers to handle expansion.

K&G produces up to 90,000 pounds of mushrooms a week on two farms, in Portage La Prairie and neighboring Oakville, Manitoba. It also sells exotic mushrooms grown by its subsidiary, Northern Mushroom Farm, in Park River, North Dakota. The company is related to four other mushroom producers in the western United States. They are owned by Rakhra Mushroom Farm Corporation in Denver, Colorado.

K&G evolved from a mushroom supplier for Campbell's Soup to a private distributor specializing in direct delivery to supermarkets. Counting the years with Campbell's, the company has been delivering directly to stores for more than 20 years, Dezeng says. K&G continues to deliver to a Campbell's plant in Toronto. However, sales to Campbell's now account for only 10% to 12% of overall sales.

Five Delivery Trucks K&G runs five Kenworth T300 trucks with refrigerated bodies cooled by Thermo King KD-II 30 SR units. Three of the five have 42-inch sleeper berths from used trucks completely refurbished and fitted onto the straight trucks. Intercontinental Truck Body of Winnipeg installed the sleepers and built the custom aluminum bodies.

"We requested sleepers because many of our trips are overnighters," Dezeng says. "The longest run is to Thunder Bay, Ontario, 465 miles east of Portage La Prairie. It takes about two and a half days, and we go there twice a week."

K&G delivers west to Regina (512 kilometers or 318 miles) and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (717 kilometers or 446 miles). The company runs seven days a week to Winnipeg (about 60 kilometers or 37 miles east) and also serves Brandon, Manitoba (128 kilometers or 80 miles west).

Though the trucks with sleepers may be used for overnight runs, they don't have to be, Dezeng adds. "The driver may prefer to stay in a hotel," he says. "Whether a driver spends the night in his sleeper or in a hotel is his own choice."

In addition to delivery, K&G makes regular shuttle runs to Park River, North Dakota, to pick up exotic mushrooms from Northern Mushroom Farm. "On average, we send a driver there twice a week," he says. "Park River is only three and a half hours from Portage La Prairie, making it an eight-hour run."

Drivers are paid by a standard amount per trip, rather than exactly by the hour. For instance, drivers on the Thunder Bay run automatically are paid for 28 hours.

10,000-lb Payloads Straight trucks work well for K&G because they maneuver easily in congested supermarket areas, Dezeng says. Weight is not a factor in the mushroom operation. Payloads typically are in the 10,000-lb range.

"A mid-range truck is a sensible choice for us, even though the trucks rack up quite a few miles," Dezeng says. "They run hard, seven days a week. We only get one holiday each year - Christmas day."

K&G previously owned International trucks and serviced them in-house. About two years ago, the company closed its truck shop and began leasing the Kenworth trucks as a way to focus more on its core business, Dezeng says. The Kenworths are provided under a full-service lease with Custom Truck Sales, the PacLease franchise in Winnipeg.

To accommodate installation of the 42-inch sleepers, Intercontinental Truck Body lengthened behind the cab about six feet. The nonsleeper trucks have 28-ft bodies.

All trucks are powered by Caterpillar 3126 engines rated for 300 hp at 2200 rpm. They use Eaton Fuller RT-8709B nine-speed transmissions. They have Eaton front axles rated at 12,000 lb, Eaton 23,000-lb single drive axles, Hendrickson HAS230L air suspension, Eaton ES 16.5 x 5 front brakes, Eaton ES 16.5 x 7 rear brakes, Michelin XZA2 11R22.5 steering tires, Michelin XDHT 11.R22.5 rear tires, and Bendix AD-9 air dryers. The trucks with sleepers have extended drivelines to accommodate a 305-inch wheelbase.

The aluminum truck bodies have urethane foam insulation two inches thick in the rear doors and ceiling, three inches in the walls, and four inches under the floor.

36 degrees F Cargo Temperature K&G sets the Thermo King KD-II 30 SR units at 36 degrees F to keep mushrooms at around 40 degrees F, Dezeng says. After harvest, mushrooms are brought down to about that same temperature. K&G has two coolers that can hold 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of mushrooms.

"We want to deliver mushrooms with a pulp temperature of 40 degrees," he says. "If they pulp out at 50 degrees F, receivers don't want them. Customer standards for food quality is higher today than in years past, and we intend to meet these standards. They want mushrooms that are white, not brown or spotted, and that have good shelf life. That's what we deliver."

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