Truffle farming: How mapping technology is being used to discover new places to grow savoury and expensive fungi

Truffle farming: How mapping technology is being used to discover new places to grow savoury and expensive fungi

Mar 8th 2014 | From the print edition

PIGS, dogs and rakes can all be useful in the quest to discover wild truffles, but each has its drawbacks. Pigs like to gobble up the fancy fungi as much as their owners do. Dogs are costly to train. Rakes wreak havoc on the duff (leaf litter) that often covers truffle-rich soil, thus damaging the fungi’s environment. Truffles are, nevertheless, successfully being unearthed in areas not traditionally associated with their growth.

Some of Oregon’s truffles, for example, are fetching $400 a pound (0.45kg) this season. But that is still less than half the cost of some Italian and French ones.

Agriculture, though, usually triumphs over hunting and gathering. Truffle orchards—patches of woodland where the fungi have been deliberately introduced—are popping up around the world. Chile, China and New Zealand all have them. But their success is a bit hit and miss, so a way of identifying where truffles will thrive would be welcome.

That is where Symbios, a company based in Oregon’s northern neighbour, Washington, comes in. Its staff have been working with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, in Richland, to develop a way of mapping land that can tell the firm where best to grow black Périgord truffles, generally regarded as France’s most exquisite variety.

First, the company contacted particularly successful producers of black Périgords in both Europe and Australia. This way, its researchers gathered a set of data about places where these fungi grow well. They then analysed what they found using 11 variables: climate, geology, altitude and eight others that the firm’s president, Jean Buckner, is keeping up her sleeve. That let them work out what constitutes a good site for a truffle orchard.

Armed with this knowledge, the firm used a range of geographical information systems (such as Google Earth) to create a series of maps of a given area, each showing which places have the right values for one of the ten variables. Lay the maps on top of one another, and the parts where enough appropriate values overlap are the ones in which you should plant truffles.

The final map ranks sites from one to ten, according to how suitable they look. When the entire group of 11 variables was analysed, 2.2% of Tennessee was awarded the highest possible score. It was the first state Symbios mapped this way, but the company has plans to do the same for California, Oregon and Washington.

Once the most promising locations have been pinpointed, the firm can find out who owns the land, and begin negotiations. If these prove fruitful, the site will then need to be explored on foot, to determine precisely where the soil’s chemistry and density are best suited for a truffle grove. According to Dr Buckner, Périgords in general prefer “fluffier” soil.

Symbios is also looking at ways of using mapping technology to find wild truffles, and into developing an electronic nose that sniffs them out using infra-red sensing, which might provide an alternative to snuffling with pigs and dogs. Its technique could also have wider application, allowing the identification of suitable sites for other crops that are finicky about where they live, such as varieties of the quinoa grain and pinot-noir grapes.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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