Ministers in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have announced a series of actions to support Irish horticultural growers who are dependent on peat.
This follows the publication of the Final Report of the Working Group on the Use of Peat Moss in the Horticultural Industry. The Working Group on the Use of Peat Moss in the Horticultural Industry was established following a series of High Court decisions which determined that large scale peat harvesting requires planning permission and licensing by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Working Group was tasked in particular with examining the potential of alternatives to peat for the horticultural industry. While the sector is committed to transitioning away from peat, this is not possible in the short term.
Against this background, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has worked with the Departments of Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC), and Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Housing), to develop proposals that include:
• 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.
The ultimate ambition of this exercise is to support the €469 million horticulture industry, the people employed and the many families that depend on this important sector.
Referring to the situation faced by Irish growers, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D. said, “Ministers Hackett, Heydon and I are very aware that there are no simple solutions here, but we are committed to exploring every opportunity to alleviate the current difficulties for growers, their businesses and their families. 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. We thank our Ministerial colleagues Eamon Ryan and Darragh O’Brien for their help in delivering a series of actions to support this crucial sector. We also of course, wish to thank Minister of State Malcolm Noonan for the work he did with the working group.”
Minister Hackett said, “as Minister with responsibility for Horticulture, I understand growers need certainty about the supply of peat in the short term. With that in mind, I will commission an independent expert to work quickly with growers, and suppliers, including Bord na Móna, to ascertain exactly what stocks are 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.”
Some level of import cannot be ruled out in the short term because this has always been a factor in the peat industry in Ireland. However, there is a regulatory pathway to legally compliant extraction and the fastest route for the domestic industry appears to be small-scale extraction on previously drained sub-30 hectare bogs. The Ministers will commission the services of experts on planning matters to provide free advice to those wishing to achieve regulatory compliance for extraction of horticultural peat for supply to the domestic horticulture industry. Bord na Móna has provided assurance that the equipment required to mix such peat, should it become available, remains in the country. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will be liaising with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the commissioning of all experts.
Minister Heydon T.D., who has responsibility for Research and Development, said, “our long-term goal is to develop suitable peat-free alternatives for growers, that are economically and environmentally sustainable. I recently committed research funding from this Department of €1.69m to a research project ‘Beyond Peat’ to be undertaken by Teagasc to investigate potential alternatives to peat. I am also engaging with others who are conducting research work in this area. 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.”
Expressing his support for the series of actions, Minister Eamon Ryan said, “it’s important we ensure the horticulture sector was supported during this period of transition away from the use of peat as a growing medium. In parallel with this, I want to see those responsible for illegal, large-scale peat extraction complying with Irish and European law. Our peatlands are our Amazon and will play a significant role in storing carbon as we work to meet our climate goals.”
Minister Darragh O’Brien added, “the professional horticultural industry makes a huge contribution to the Irish economy, in terms of employment, of food security and in sustaining a whole range of other downstream businesses. We need to stand with our Irish growers, and give them help and support to access the modest supplies of peat that they need while realistic alternatives to peat as a growing medium are still in development. This must be done in a way that complies with our planning and licensing laws, and I am glad to see that expert help will be provided as part of this programme of Actions, to help growers engage with and navigate the regulatory system.”
Minister Malcolm Noonan said, “this joint programme of Actions, agreed by the three Departments, draws on the important work done by Dr Prasad and the Working Group on Peat in Horticulture. I would like to thank everyone who contributed to the work of that Group. Our peatlands are a national treasure. I look forward to working with my colleagues in DAFM and DECC to ensure the restoration and rehabilitation of bogs, once the limited and legally compliant extraction of peat envisaged in this programme of Actions has concluded.”