EAGLE, Idaho — Truffle farmer Paul Beckman is trying to figure out the secret to growing the potentially lucrative crop in an orchard setting.
It’s no easy task, since there’s no hard science available on how to grow truffles, which fetch between $500 and $1,200 a pound.
Truffles are a fungi that grow underground. They can be grown in orchards planted with trees inoculated with truffle spores.
Because the commercial truffle orchard industry is in its infancy, Beckman has planted a variety of trees using different kinds of spacings and planting schemes.
“I wish I could tell you,” he said when asked how to produce truffles. “There is no farming manual on truffles. That real good understanding of the farming aspect of truffles just isn’t there yet.”
Beckman began his experiment with what he calls “Idaho’s other tuber” nine years ago when he planted 10 acres of truffle-inoculated trees in the foothills north of Eagle.
Since then, he has planted another 25 acres and seven other farmers have followed suit. There are now about 120 acres of truffle trees in the Treasure Valley of southwestern Idaho.
Truffle trees take about seven to 12 years before they start producing significant amounts of the tuber-like fungus, which grows near the root systems of several tree species.
Because the don’t emerge from the ground, they are found using trained truffle-hunting dogs.
Beckman is so far the only Idaho truffle farmer to find any. He found five four seasons ago, 15 the next year, 150 last year and 300 so far this year.
“That’s very encouraging,” said Ron Bitner, who planted his first truffle trees a year after Beckman started.
Bitner, who owns a vineyard and winery, said the crop takes an incredible amount of patience.
“You pretty much plant the trees, water them and then wait 10 years,” he said.
But the potential payoff could be huge, he added. Truffle growers in this area hope their orchards eventually produce 15-25 pounds of truffles per acre each year.
Beckman said he is confident that the truffle orchards planted in the valley will begin producing significant amounts of truffles one day.
“It’s just a matter of waiting for them to mature,” he said.
When he first had the idea of planting truffle-inoculated trees in Idaho, Beckman was told by experts that it was too cold in Idaho to grow them.
But Charles Lefevre, one of the founders of the Oregon Truffle Festival, who inoculated the seedlings planted in this area, has told Capital Press that after doing more research on Idaho’s climate and soil conditions, he has come to realize the Treasure Valley could be an ideal place to grow truffles.
That’s because the soil pH content in the area is high, so farmers don’t have to add tons of lime to the soil like truffle farmers in other areas do, and the Snake River moderates the climate in this area.