IFA horticulture chair Paul Brophy has warned that unless the harvesting of peat is reinstated soon, his sector will probably go under in the next five years.
“It’s going to close us down, peat is so vital to everything we do. We need a just transition until an alternative to peat is developed through research and development.”
Brophy accused Eamon Ryan’s Green Party of seeming to lack a basic understanding of horticulture, and he said that for growers like him, it’s not just as simple as buying in peat from elsewhere.
“Irish peat as a product is sterile, it’s weed-free, pest-free, disease-free and it has a neutral PH, so you can add anything you want to it,” he says.
Brophy, who grows broccoli on his farm, said the type of peat he uses, compared to what mushroom growers or garden centres use, is like chalk and cheese.
We have worked with a company for four years to develop our recipe
However, he said it was “a sum of all the parts, when they extract peat out of the ground they grade heavy peat for mushrooms, the coarse stuff for the garden centres, and we take the dust, the finest of the peat and we mix that with our minerals.
“We have worked with a company for four years to develop our recipe. We have a winter compost and a summer compost.
“So, it’s not just a matter of let’s go and buy 20t of peat from Latvia for my business, it just doesn’t work like that,” he insisted.
Last month a shipment of 3,600t of horticultural peat from Latvia arrived in Drogheda, which was subsequently distributed across Ireland by a convoy of over 200 trucks.
The imports are the downstream effect of a 2019 High Court decision, prompted by legal action by Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), which imposed strict planning regulations for commercial peat extraction that effectively ended Irish peat extraction.
It was never my preference for importation to be an option
When questioned about whether the Latvian imports were a result of the green agenda, at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine on 21 September, Malcolm Noonan, Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, said: “It was never my preference for importation to be an option.
“It is certainly a less favourable option environmentally when quality peat exists in this country but the law is the law. We have to try to figure out a solution that works in an Irish context.”
Brophy describes what is happening in Ireland right now as the paradox of the century.
“We stop harvesting peat here for food production because it’s the ‘green’ thing to do, and then we import 4,000t by the boatload!
The Green Party aren’t man enough to admit that they didn’t foresee the impact that it was going to have
“That peat is full of water and we can’t be sure how sterile it is. Not to mention the added carbon footprint that it has after travelling thousands of miles before getting to Ireland,” said Brophy.
“The Green Party aren’t man enough to admit that they didn’t foresee the impact that it was going to have on food production and food security,” he claimed.
“Our sector was only using about 2% of the total amount of peat that was being harvested in this country. If we could get that for 10 years, just to give us a transition.
“Then the Government could pump some of their millions into Teagasc, to help them develop a realistic alternative for the sector,” he concluded.