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Idaho truffle industry begins to show promise

Sean Ellis
Fifty truffles were discovered in Idaho orchards this year and the state's fledgling industry is showing signs of promise. Truffles fetch up to $1,000 a pound and the handful of Idaho farmers who have planted truffle-inoculated trees have high hopes for them.

EAGLE, Idaho — Idaho’s fledgling truffle industry is starting to show signs of promise.

Five of the valuable truffles — they fetch from $400 to $1,200 a pound — were found in Paul Beckman’s orchards last year, the first truffles ever discovered in Idaho.

Beckman’s truffle-hunting dogs found 50 more this year.

“That’s a good trajectory. His orchards could conceivably produce a tremendous volume of truffles at that rate,” said Charles Lefevre, owner of New World Truffieres and one of the founders and organizers of the Oregon Truffle Festival.

Truffles, a fungus, attach to the root tips of trees and provide them micronutrients.

Beckman has planted about 35 acres of truffle-inoculated trees in the Eagle foothills and neighbor Brad Sprenger and a handful of others in the area have planted a few dozen more.

“We hope this turns into a new crop for southwest Idaho that is very lucrative to farmers who plant and raise them,” Beckman said.

Beckman planted his first trees in 2006 and Sprenger planted his orchards the following year.

About 10,000 truffle-inoculated trees have been planted in the valley and the area may have the largest concentration of truffle orchards in the country, said Lefevre, who inoculated the seedlings planted in Idaho and serves as a mentor to Idaho’s truffle farmers.

Based on production in other areas, it’s reasonable to expect the Idaho orchards will produce about 35 pounds of truffles an acre when they’re mature in a few years, Lefevre said.

At up to $1,000 a pound, the payoff could be significant.

“If it turns out the way we think it’s going to, then it’s really going to be some good money some day,” Sprenger said.

But the payoff isn’t immediate — it takes about eight years for trees to begin producing a significant amount of truffles — and Beckman said farmers have to be in it for the long haul.

“You just have to be patient because it takes time for everything to mature and for truffles to start to be produced,” he said.

Beckman said the worst-case scenario is that he ends up with an orchard full of hazelnut and oak trees.

“It’s no different than any other farming operation. There is risk and reward built into it,” he said. “However, you have the potential for a healthy return on these in the future.”

Beckman said the truffles he found this year were small and crumbly and Lefevre said a cold snap that hit the area in January could have affected them.

“Cold weather like you had this year is something that affects a truffle crop … and that’s one of the risks,” he said. “But truffles are so valuable it’s worth it. All of Paul’s truffles that he says are small and crumbly are still marketable.”



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