According to Growing Media Ireland (GMI), for the first time, Ireland has imported a “huge shipment” of horticultural peat totaling “almost 4,000t of which arrived on Saturday morning”.

The representative group said that a convoy of “over 200 trucks collected the freight of horticultural peat which travelled over 3,000km to Ireland from Latvia”.

“This compares to an average of 10km when peat was harvested locally in a Westmeath factory prior to its effective banning in Ireland,” GMI said.

“This is the first time this country has had to import horticultural peat with many scheduled shipments from the Baltic states and other EU countries expected over the coming weeks and months to supply Ireland’s horticultural sector.

“All sectors of Irish horticulture including mushroom and small fruit and vegetable growers in north Dublin and throughout rural Ireland are severely affected.

“However, not only will growers and horticultural peat sector be impacted but food prices are expected to increase as a result of peat importation and inevitably passed on to consumers.”

Horticultural peat harvesting has ceased in Ireland since September 2019, following a High Court ruling that “has resulted in harvesting of peat from Irish bogs greater than 30ha required to navigate a complex four-stage licensing and planning”.

All other EU countries have a single system, GMI noted.

The imported peat is to “supplement the reserve supplies of Irish peat that have now been almost exhausted, forcing the sector to import peat into Ireland at a higher cost both financially and environmentally”. GMI said that this is placing 17,000 jobs across Ireland’s horticultural sector “at risk”.

Carbon emissions

GMI estimates that the cost of importing horticultural peat could be “up to three times the cost of sourcing peat in Ireland”.

“The importation of horticultural peat also has considerable environmental consequences, with significant carbon emissions resulting from transporting the peat 3,000km by sea.”

GMI is now calling on the government to secure the resumption of peat production in Ireland immediately to avoid a “sector-wide financial and environmental crisis”.

“The nuclear scenario for our sector that we warned the government of last year has been realised. The ban on harvesting for the last two years has meant Irish reserves of horticultural peat are now exhausted, and we are fully reliant on expensive imports from abroad,” John Neenan, GMI chairman said.

“This has resulted in hugely-increased costs, which will have a real impact on the competitiveness of Ireland’s fruit and vegetable sector, and ultimately will lead to higher food prices for families.

“Horticultural peat is a universal ingredient for almost all plant species in almost all production systems in Ireland.”

He said that GMI estimates that “at least two shipments” the size of what arrived in Ireland in recent days will be required “each month” to meet Ireland’s needs.

“It is a crazy scenario we are facing given horticultural peat is readily available and can be harvested in a sustainable, environmentally-friendly manner in this country,” he added.

Minister of State with responsibility for heritage Malcolm Noonan will appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine today (Tuesday, September 21) to discuss peat shortages in the horticulture industry.