Research must be applied to find alternatives to peat for the Irish horticultural industry – but in the meantime Irish growers have got to be allowed to mill peat for the mushroom industry, one senator has stressed.

Independent senator Victor Boyhan underlined the issue today (Tuesday, July 13) following a protest by horticulture growers in Dublin this morning.

“I am calling for an economic impact assessments (EIA) to be carried out to estimate the cumulative economic effects – sales, exports and employment etc. – associated with the mushroom industry,” the senator, himself a horticulturalist, said.

“Clearly some members of government do not understand its importance and significance both to the agri-food sector and to rural employment.”

The Seanad Agricultural Panel member called on Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue, to commission Teagasc without delay, to conduct research trials into alternatives to peat for the horticultural industry, agri-food and forestry sector.

Highlighting his view that the mushroom sector is reliant on milled peat with no viable alternatives currently available, senator Boyhan added:

“The end of peat production in Ireland would be catastrophic for the horticultural sector, most likely making the production of mushrooms uneconomic.”

He added that the “unavailability of peat from Irish sources for mushroom casing will lead to either the closure of the mushroom industry or the importation of casing material from other EU countries at a higher environmental and financial cost, impacting on the viability of the industry”.

The senator claimed that, without an Irish supply of peat, Irish growers could potentially be “wiped out” by imports from the Netherlands, adding:

“It would be sheer madness and hypocritical to ban the harvesting of peat in Ireland while importing it from another EU or third country.”

Senator Boyhan stressed that the challenge is to find alternatives to peat-based growing material for horticultural production, which are readily available, affordable and sustainable – and meet both quality and environmental requirements is a significant challenge.

“Alternatives must be examined in relation to quality, crop yield, health and safety and carbon footprint arising from any new or production processes, weight and transport requirements,” he said.

Calling for the protection of jobs in the mushroom industry and a “just transition” for the horticulture industry, the senator concluded by stating:

“Sustainable alternatives to peat that will yield high-quality food production and are profitable must be explored through research an innovation.”