The horticulture sector in Ireland is engulfed in a crisis due to ongoing restrictions on peat harvesting and dwindling supplies, Growing Media Ireland (GMI) has told an Oireachtas Committee.

Up to 17,000 jobs are at risk of being lost in the coming months, according to GMI, the body which represents horticultural peat and growing media producers. Ireland’s mushroom and vegetable industries are particularly reliant on peat.

GMI representatives told members of the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee that emergency legislation is needed to enable an immediate resumption of peat harvesting. Members of the committee agreed to arranging a meeting between the group and the Departments of Agriculture, Environment and Housing.

Licencing and planning

It was pointed out that a September 2019 High Court ruling that means harvesting peat from bogs greater than 30ha in size requires navigating a complex licencing and planning regime.

This has resulted in horticultural peat harvesting all but ceasing, while current reserve supplies are predicted to be exhausted by September. GMI believes an immediate lifting of restrictions is required to prevent shortages in 2021 and 2022.

The sector will otherwise be forced to import peat at a higher cost both financially and environmentally, GMI representatives said.

GMI has also called for a “workable” licensing system to allow for the phasing out of horticultural peat harvesting by 2030. This would allow alternatives to be developed in the interim.

Commenting after the hearing, John Neenan, GMI chair said: “Thousands of jobs in the midlands and west of Ireland across our sector will be lost unless we can get back to peat harvesting this summer.”