A Fine Gael senator has written to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue ahead of a meeting of the EU Council of ministers tomorrow (Tuesday, May 24) to raise concerns about the horticulture industry.

Seantor Regina Doherty is concerned about a proposal from the German delegation on ‘Peat Reduction in Horticultural Growing Media’ which is due to discussed at the meeting.

In the letter, the senator states: “It is scandalous that our horticultural growers are forced to purchase imported and very expensive peat from places like Poland and Latvia, when we should be supplying them with peat from Irish bogs.

“Putting that aside for a moment, this working paper from the Thunan Institute which is up for discussion at your EU council meeting on Tuesday will unequivocally, bring about the end of the Irish horticultural industry unless it takes individual member states concerns and allows for further thought, engagement and research.”

The senator added that she is in favour of a transition to sustainable alternatives to peat and while research is underway, alternatives are not available yet.

Senator Regina Doherty

“The current ‘alternatives’, such as compostable green waste, coir (discarded coconut husk), woodfibre etc, none of them currently provide the same crop yields and are more costly and the environmental impact is unclear,” Doherty added.

“For some sectors such as mushroom growing, there are no suitable alternatives available. This means that the only solution available is to import horticultural peat.

“The first recommendation of the Review of the use of Peat Moss in Horticulture (which was published by this government in January) stated ‘Irish peat should be available over the short-term in sufficient quantities for the professional horticulture sector’. This is absolutely critical for the 2022 season,” she added.

German proposal on horticulture

Senator Doherty claims that the German proposal to be discussed at tomorrow’s EU Council meeting completely removes all availability of peat as a growing medium for the horticulture industry.

This would be done by banning all harvesting and importation of peat in the EU.

“I do however see that the proposal from the German delegation is worthwhile in its ambition to reduce the carbon footprint of the agricultural sector, but it does not deal with the impacts this radical paper will have on the industry, the jobs it sustains and the wider topic of food security particularly in the Irish context,” the senator stated.

“There is no mention of the [European] Commission being invited to research and develop alternatives or protect the thousands of jobs associated with horticulture or taking into consideration food security.

“These concerns need to be discussed and included in this paper,” she added.

The senator has called on Minister McConalogue to reflect on the points she has made in her letter and to make it clear at the EU Council meeting that the Irish horticultural industry is deeply concerned that the German proposal is ‘unworkable’.

The senator’s letter to the minister continued: “I’d like to also suggest you inform the council that the relevant departments should engage with the Irish horticultural growers through the IFA [Irish Farmers’ Association] Horticultural and Mushroom Committee and Growing Media Ireland so a workable solution can be secured and that
adequate resources are provided by the EU to research and develop alternatives to peat to allow for a just transition so we reach our climate targets of net zero emissions by 2050.”