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Czech Mushroom Pickers Brace for Bumper Crop After Record Rain September 14, 2005 - Bloomberg.com
Millions of Czechs are taking to the countryside after record rainfall in July and August produced a bumper mushroom crop.
"This summer season has been really good because the soil was so damp," Antonin Vorlicek, a 65-year-old retiree from a village east of Prague "I love to pick mushrooms, I love to eat mushrooms. It's a big pleasure."
This year's Czech mushroom season is starting three months earlier than usual and the crop may be more than double the average of 20,000 tons, according to the Prague-based Czech Mycological Society. About 2 billion koruna ($86.5 million) of mushrooms are gathered annually, says the group, which estimates that as many as six million people, or two thirds of the population, are gathering the plants.
Mushrooms, fleshy, umbrella-shaped fungi, cause three deaths on average each year because of people eating a poisonous variety. The plants can also carry Lyme disease and encephalitis.
The society held an exhibition of different varieties last week in Prague's riverside Zofin Palace, where the city's premier balls are held and the country's top lawmakers including Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek hold speeches on policy.
"Mushroom picking could be considered the Czech national hobby," Miroslav Smotlacha, the 85-year-old head of the society, said in a Sept. 1 interview in his Prague office. "This summer has been absolutely extraordinary, I don't remember so many mushrooms in this period." The society has 6,500 members.
The mushroom-picking season in the Czech Republic normally begins in late September and continues through October. This year, gatherers say they are already scooping up as much as 60 kilos of mushrooms in a few hours in the dense forests that cover about a third of the country.
In July, rainfall in the Czech Republic was triple the average from 1961 through 1990, according to the Czech Hydro- Meteorological Institute. While there was even more rain in August, exact statistics are not available, the institute said.
The Czech Mycological Society was founded by Smotlacha's father in 1921 to teach people to recognize edible and inedible mushrooms. It's added centers across the country, holds exhibitions, seminars and contests and publishes a magazine.
Czechs are "the world's greatest mushroom experts" as a result, Smotlacha said.
Measures to protect the environment after the 1989 collapse of Communism helped improve the quality of mushrooms, Smotlacha said. Sulfur dioxide emissions have fallen 90 percent and traces of nitrogen oxide dropped more than 40 percent between 1990 and 2003, according to the Czech Environment Ministry, helping to reduce acid in the soil and allowing types of mushrooms including chanterelle to reemerge after a 30 year hiatus.
The dangers haven't cooled the Czech appetite.
"I love to have a walk through woods, to me, this is the most important thing," said Hana Junkova, a 64-year-old pensioner from Prague in an interview in Klanovice, a nature reserve. "I don't care that much if I find mushrooms or I don't, although it's a pleasure to find some eventually."