Paul Beckman, who helped pioneer truffle cultivation in Idaho a dozen years ago, has spearheaded the formation of a group he hopes will enable the industry to boost its public profile and attract research funding.
“We created it to start formalizing research we are doing,” the Idaho Truffle Growers Association founder and president said.
ITGA, a state nonprofit organization that can accept donations for research, has six members from north of Eagle — where Beckman grows 13 acres of truffles on his 30-acre Bella Vista Farms — west to Homedale near the Oregon border.
He plans to invite more of the state’s estimated 15 growers to join.
Members connect by phone about weekly and likely will set up a meeting schedule, he said. Membership is voluntary and free.
The association exists in part to publicize the state’s truffle industry, but it centers on research, Beckman said. Recent efforts among growers to formalize research helped lead to the association’s creation.
“We hope to do a bunch of research, and spread it to all members with hopes of this becoming a profitable specialty crop in southern Idaho,” he said.
Operating an official organization makes it easier to sort and circulate findings from research now largely funded by individual growers, and “will be a more professional view of the world as opposed to somebody on the back of an envelope,” Beckman said.
“The whole idea is to create an organization that will eventually apply for grants or other types of funding for a focus point of research here in Idaho,” he said. The association aims to “involve all of the universities eventually and get this new industry off the ground. It takes time.”
Ken Fry, an Eagle-area truffle grower, also belongs to the association.
“It will be an important part of the Idaho truffle industry moving forward ... to standardize quality,” he said. “And it will be helpful to have a formal organization to help the truffle-growing community, not just with standardized quality or grading, but also to promote Idaho truffles nationwide.”
A truffle is the mature fruiting body of a fungus that grows symbiotically on tree roots underground. Many host trees are hazelnuts and oaks. Growing a truffle usually takes four to eight years, depending on variety, Beckman said.
As an example of working to standardize quality, Fry said growers periodically re-inoculate roots to ensure increased mycorrhizal activity associated with truffle production. The inoculum applied consists of truffles; at his farm, each is DNA-tested onsite to ensure homogeneity.
Beckman, who recently met with University of Idaho forestry researchers, saw his first production in 2012. He began planting trees in 2007, and the following year planted many more “in all kinds of different configurations to figure the best for production of the most truffles.”
The Idaho Truffle Farmers Weekend, held in the state’s southwest region the last weekend of February, drew about 35 people from Israel, Canada and about six U.S. states. Beckman said the event broadened awareness of the industry in the state and opened additional research opportunities.