Practical solutions are needed to help the horticultural sector, which is already on its knees due to the unavailability of Irish horticultural peat, according to Growing Media Ireland (GMI) chair John Neenan.

He called on Minister for Heritage Malcolm Noonan to publish the peat working group report without delay, as it has “been lying on the Minister’s desk for more than seven weeks”.

He said the horticulture sector needs a clear plan, with definite timelines, outlining how recommendations in the report will be implemented.

“The lack of urgency demonstrated by the minister in publishing the working group report is contributing to the uncertainty facing the future of Irish horticulture,” Neenan added.

GMI is the representative group for most horticultural peat and growing media producers in Ireland.

Demise of the sector

Neenan said the lack of peat alternatives over the next four to five years could lead to the demise of the sector.

According to GMI, a total of 17,000 jobs across Ireland’s horticultural sector are now at risk.

“The effective ban on horticultural peat harvesting and the lack of alternatives for growers needs the focus of one minister and department, as different departments can only provide a piecemeal solution to the issue.”

Stockpiles exhausted

“Imports of horticultural peat are now required and are already taking place due to the diminished stockpiles that Bord na Móna and other producers had built up,” Neenan said.

He highlighted that the export figures for 2020 are misleading, due to most of the peat coming from Bord na Móna’s exports before they ceased.

“These stockpiles have been exhausted and now growers depend on imported peat from other EU countries like Latvia.

“The remaining growing media producers in Ireland can no longer service the needs of domestic growers with domestic horticultural peat due to the effective ban on harvesting peat.”

Funding for alternatives

GMI welcomed funding announced on Wednesday by Minister for Land Use and Biodiversity Pippa Hackett, for research into and capital investment in peat alternatives.

“Our members have already invested millions and continue to invest in alternatives. However, this proposed funding will not address the real crisis facing the Irish horticultural industry as a result of the unavailability of Irish horticultural peat.

“The lack of viable peat alternatives right now is the real issue that Government has to deal with.”

Minister’s commitment

Minister Malcolm Noonan stated at a recent Seanad debate on the extraction of Irish peat that his working group report would be brought before the cabinet “in the coming days”.

GMI insisted Minister Noonan cannot backtrack on his promise to publish this report and said he must act on its recommendations immediately.