Since Defra announced its intention to legislate for a ban on the sale of peat by the end of 2024, there has been much confusion and speculation about what this means for professional growers, not aided by inaccurate headlines in the press. NFU horticulture and potatoes adviser Christine McDowell sets out the facts on the current situation.
There is a new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, with a new Defra Secretary of State in post. The recent period of political uncertainty stretches across into policy development – not least the expected ban on the sale of peat-growing media by 2024.
Exemptions for edible and ornamental growers beyond 2024
Defra has said that a ban in the professional sector is likely to come at a much later date, potentially into the next decade, in recognition of the complex challenges growers are up against in shifting to alternative materials and the associated knock-on impacts to the market.
Exemptions for professional growers are likely to be timebound and for specific technical reasons. It's expected Ministers will decide nearer Christmas on the detail.
Defra has been engaging across both the edible and ornamental sectors to understand what requires an exemption, why, and for how long.
Discussions to date have focused on the technical challenges associated with moving away from peat, such as in propagation, plug, blocking, and module production.
Discussions have also focused on the specific challenges where no alternative is available, such as in mushroom production. There are, of course, other crops with specific challenges, which Defra is aware of, particularly in the ornamental sector.
Defra has also been asking the industry what support is needed for growers to shift to alternative materials. A clear ask from all growers is to allow for sufficient time to move, supported by government unblocking policy barriers in accessing a variety of sustainable alternative materials, grant funding for infrastructure, equipment, and R&D into finding new materials.
The NFU and several growers have also met with the Office of Internal Markets, which is considering the implications to the functioning of the internal market of an English-only ban. We continue to provide support as part of this review, which is expected to complete in February 2023.
The NFU doesn't want to see legislation and, along with others from the Growing Media Taskforce, continues to maintain that legislation is not the right mechanism to shift the industry to sustainable alternative growing media. As a responsible sector, conscious of our environmental footprint, collectively, we acknowledge the need to reduce our peat use and, indeed, are doing so annually.
But there are challenges and unintended consequences to consider, such as having alternative materials available at scale and ensuring a level playing field with imports. As an industry, they must also consider carefully that they are not exporting the carbon footprint by shifting to unsustainable alternatives.
They are calling on the government to work with industry to remove policy barriers and support growers to find sustainable alternatives through funding and R&D.
The Growing Media Taskforce, of which the NFU is a member, is posed with a joint letter requesting a meeting with the new Minister to discuss matters further.
- Defra received over 5,000 responses to its consultation earlier this year, many of which were from NGO-led public campaigns. Growers and industry bodies also submitted industry views.
- Around 0.5 million tonnes of C02 is emitted from UKs use of peat in growing media in the UK, out of a total UK CO2e emissions of 205 million tonnes; peat in UK growing media accounts for 0.12% of the UK's carbon emissions and is already rapidly falling.
- Peat extraction in the UK is from around 1,000 hectares or 0.04% of the UK's peatlands and is falling rapidly.
- Industry reduced the volume of peat it used in 2021 vs. 2020 by 0.5m (30%) cubic meters in the growing media supplied to gardeners.
- Peat is no longer the most voluminous component in growing media sold to gardeners, having been overtaken by wood-based materials such as wood fiber.
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