Despite soft fruit and mushroom growers facing rising costs when sourcing horticultural-grade peat moss due to suppliers shipping peat in from other countries, Ireland remains a net exporter of peat, according to Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Pippa Hackett.

Minister Hackett recognised that peat supplies are needed for certain sectors within horticulture but also acknowledged the “legal and regulatory” challenges associated with extracting peat for growing purposes.

“In relation to your queries on the importation, I understand we are still a net exporter of peat in this country so maybe there is some engagement there that we should be doing with those exporters asking them to maybe not export and to keep it in this country to secure the horticulture sector here,” Minister Hackett said.

The minister’s comments came in response to a question posed in Dáil Éireann on Wednesday by Sinn Féin TD for Tipperary Martin Browne.

3,000 miles

Browne criticised the Government for failing to listen to horticulture stakeholders’ calls for solutions to be put in place on the issue of peat moss.

Growers are at real risk of facing closures due to horticultural-grade peat supply issues, he claimed.

“I don’t know how you as a minister, a Green minister and the Green party, can stand over importing peat from 3,000 miles away,” the Tipperary TD said.

“Hundreds of trucks bringing it to a ship over there. We ship it 3,000 miles across the sea, another 200 or 300 trucks have to pick it up here.

“We are talking about [a] minuscule amount of peat to keep our mushroom industry and the horticultural [industry] going and you are closing it down and it doesn’t make any sense.

“And you keep talking about alternatives. Again, I ask you to listen to stakeholders,” Browne said.

Horticulture sector

Minister Hackett recognised the “significant contribution” to the economy and employment represented by the horticulture sector, which she quoted as being worth €521m to the economy at farmgate-level last year.

She stated that there were 17,600 people employed in the horticultural sector in the State, either at primary or added-value sides of the industry.

The debate heard that approximately 60% of horticultural produce is reliant on peat as a growing media, with the mushroom and soft fruit sectors particularly lacking in available growing media alternatives at the present time.

Expert recommendations

Minister Hackett insisted that the Government was acting to try to resolve the challenges facing growers in sourcing and transitioning away from peat moss.

Government is working to implement the six recommendations of the expert Working Group on the Use of Peat Moss in the Horticultural Industry which published its report earlier this year, the minister said, adding that experts had been hired to assist in the implementation of thse recommendations.

“The actions include a range of targeted measures which reflect the multi-facetted nature of the problems and the subsequent need for short-, medium- and long-term solutions.

“These actions were developed to address the short-term issues of peat supply, the medium-term one of future access to peat and the longer-term issues of replacement with alternatives.

“The ultimate ambition is to support the horticulture industry, the people employed and the many families that depend on this important sector,” Minister Hackett commented.