The use of peat as a growing medium in the horticultural sector should be phased out by 2030 or 2035 at the latest, but peat should be harvested from degraded sub-30ha plots to fill shorter-term supply deficits, a report published by the working group on horticultural peat has stated.

The report acknowledged that peat should be made available for professional horticulture in the medium-term and made available longer-term to the mushroom industry.

The working group - convened by Minister of State at the Department of Housing Malcolm Noonan - was comprised of stakeholders and industry experts.

Ceasing imports

According to the working group, horticultural peat should be sourced within the country, as importing peat does not make “environmental, economic or ethical sense” - except in one-off circumstances - as it is a raw material containing over 80% water.

Last year, peat was sourced from as far away as eastern Europe and Sri Lanka, after cutting on almost all plots was discontinued after a change in legislation required dual-permission to cut peat from the EPA and planning authorities.

Sub-30ha plots

The report recommended that provisions be made by Government to allow the owners of peat plots under 30ha to seek permission to harvest their bogs for horticultural purposes in cases where drainage works had commenced pre-2002.

A similar option had been made available last year, but there remains to be a single application allowed to harvest peat under the sub-30ha designation.

The report went on to state that the number of these plots is unknown and that the volumes harvested in this manner may not be enough to fill the demand for horticultural peat.

The use of environmentally-degraded bogs could be another domestic source of peat, the working group reported.

Taking stock

The Department of Agriculture has also announced that it will act on the report’s recommendation that an independent commissioner be appointed to assess the stocks of growing media currently available to growers in the country.

Suppliers of both peat and non-peat growing alternatives will be surveyed as part of the stocktake.

Non-horticultural grade peat stocks may also be quantified, as Bord na Móna is said to have stocks of briquette-grade peat harvested and stored in the midlands that may be available for mixing with other raw materials, the Department of Agriculture has said.

Bord na Móna has stated its intention to make the semi-state’s plant and mixing machinery available to growing media providers in cases where mixing will be required to blend raw materials.

The report acknowledges that in the short term, some specific sectors would not find the option of diluting peat supplies with other growing media feasible, citing the mushroom casing industry as an example.