The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has announced a series of supports for horticultural growers who rely on peat.

It comes as the final report of the Working Group on the Use of Peat Moss in the Horticultural Industry has been published today (Monday January 17).

The group was set up in the wake of High Court rulings which determined that large scale peat harvesting needs planning permission and licensing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Its main focus was to examine potential alternatives to peat use in the Irish horticulture sector.

Peat Use

In December, Independent TD for Galway, Sean Canney said that restrictions on harvesting here led to the importation of 3,600t of horticultural peat to meet the demand of growers.

DAFM said that some level of importation cannot be ruled out in the short term as “this has always been a factor” in the Irish peat industry.

In a statement, the department said that although the sector, which is worth €469 million to the economy, is “committed to transitioning away from peat, this is not possible in the short term”.

It has worked with the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage on the following proposals:

  • the commissioning of an independent expert to assess levels and suitability of current stocks of peat across all suppliers, including Bord na Móna, for the Irish horticultural sector;
  • the commissioning of experts on planning to provide free advice to those who wish to extract peat in a manner which is compliant with the relevant regulations on sub-30 hectare bogs;
  • research to deliver alternatives to peat for the horticulture sector.

Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue said that there are “no simple solutions here” but added that he is “committed to exploring every opportunity to alleviate the current difficulties for growers”.

“The horticulture sector is crucial for the agriculture industry and the overall economy. We are endeavouring to address the short-term issue of supply, the medium term one of future access to peat and also the longer-term issue of replacement with alternatives,” he stated.

Minister of State with responsibility for horticulture, Pippa Hackett said that an independent expert will “work quickly” to determine what stocks are currently available.

“Bord na Móna have committed to working with an independent expert and the growers to see if any of the stocks of peat they have on hand would be of use to the horticulture sector,” she outlined.

Planning experts will also be employed by the department to offer free regulatory advice for people wanting to extract horticultural peat for domestic growers.

Almost €1.7 million in funding was announced last month for a research project aiming to develop peat-free alternatives for growers.

Minister Martin Heydon, who has responsibility for research and development, said: “These alternatives will take time to come to fruition and growers will continue to need access to a viable growing medium in the interim to protect these valuable jobs and sector.”

Certainty Needed

Meanwhile, the leader of the Seanad, Regina Doherty has said that the “small measures” announced today are welcome but do not go far enough.

“This plan will by no means bring certainty to the horticultural growers who need peat, the most basic raw material for the 2022 growing season and beyond,” the Fine Gael senator said.

“The most significant message from today’s announcement is that the government finally recognises that there is a problem here and that it threatens the existence of the horticultural industry.

“The growers that I have been working with estimate that there is a sufficient supply to keep them going until June due to the peat imported in the latter end of 2021,” she explained.

“No other business could survive with this kind of uncertainty. What we need is a solid plan to allow for the extraction of Irish peat, from Irish bogs, for the Irish horticultural sector.

“From what I can see this is a political solution to a very practical problem,” the senator concluded.