Prohibition on peat harvesting threatening future of Ireland’s horticulture industry

Sector ‘completely hamstrung’ by legal restrictions

Sligo News File

Ireland’s multi-million horticulture industry is on the brink of being wiped out, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

The threat is the second major shock for the rural community coming almost immediately on the heels of the previously announced closure of the Bord Na Mona peat operations.

Horticulture, with a farm gate value of nearly €480 million, employs a workforce of nearly 18,000 but with supplies of crucially needed Irish peat moss being taken off the market, its future is said to be now heavily endangered.

Industry representatives, in a recent meeting with members of the Oireachtas committee on agriculture, have said the sector is “completely hamstrung” by the current legal position on peat production in Ireland and Bord Na Mona’s exit from peat activity.

“The law is impossible. The horticulture industry is facing enforced closure by September this year, it will be wiped out. Transport costs have gone up 300pc and the cost of peat is 50pc higher.”

While this is happening, and the government moving to convert peatlands into sinks for atmospheric carbon dioxide as part of the ‘green’ battle against climate change, it’s reported that boatloads of peat alternatives – with consequent major carbon footprints – are being shipped into the country from places as far away as the Baltic States, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

A representative for mushroom producers has warned, however, that there is no available alternative for the Bord Na Mona peat moss used by growers as the primary component for casing layers in the cultivation of the mushroom crop. He said research had been carried out as far apart as Australia and South Africa to identify alternatives “but to no avail.

“In fact, in South Africa an alternative was proposed from sugar beet or sugar bagasse. When it was introduced to the industry there it was a failure,” he added.

It has also been pointed out that the “viability of an alternative use to peat coming on stream soon is highly unlikely.”

While green waste is being researched, its use, it was noted, “presents many challenges due to its low air status, its low stability and the possibility of impurities. …it is certainly not an answer for inclusion in compost.”

It was stated that currently “we are seeing the addition of up to 30% alternatives, such as wood fibre in peat, but it is a long-term research programme to find a suitable compost mix.

“We will be importing significant quantities of plants because if we are not producing here we certainly will have to import from elsewhere.” Continuing, the speaker said, “there could be significant biosecurity issues for the environment etc.

“There is also, of course, the additional carbon footprint of transporting peat, mainly from the Baltic states, and possibly from Russia in the future.

“Internationally, there is no benefit in the world in doing this,” he said.

A growers group representative said: “The growth of the nursery industry is directly related to the availability of Irish peat.”

He said: “In the midlands within a radius of 25 miles of Tullamore, there are 25 nurseries employing approximately 250 workers generating a total output in excess of €15 million.”

Quoting from a Teagasc submission to the recent review of peat in horticulture and the key industry issues, it stated, he said, “There are currently no other abundant materials that have suitable properties at an affordable cost. Selecting any other material currently requires a grower to compromise in terms of crop risk where aspects of crop husbandry, yield and quality are potentially impacted and currently under-researched.”

The government has announced that Dr. Munoo Prasad who worked as an independent consultant for Bord Na Mona has now been appointed to head up a working group to examine a recent review on the use of peat moss.