Ireland: Addressing the challenges related to peat supply in horticulture

The horticulture sector makes a significant contribution to the economy with a farm gate value of almost €521 million in 2021. and 17,600 people employed in primary production, value added and downstream businesses.

Approximately 60% of the value of Irish horticulture is currently dependent on peat with the mushroom, amenity and soft fruit sectors being most reliant. The industry therefore requires continued access to peat until alternatives are developed. The horticulture sector is committed to developing alternatives to peat as a growing medium. Peat should be phased out by 2030, or by the very latest of 2035, providing alternative materials are available.

Report
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, and Minister of State with responsibility for Horticulture, Senator Pippa Hackett, and Minister of State Martin Heydon with responsibility for Research and Development announced the publication of two reports, committed to as part of the department‘s working paper to support the domestic horticulture sector who are dependent on peat.
Seamus Boland of Irish Rural Link was commissioned by the department to assess the level and suitability of current peat stocks and the identification of potential sub 30 hectare sites suitable for regulatory compliant abstraction.

In his report entitled ‘Final Report on the assessment of the Levels and Suitability of Current Indigenous Peat Stocks and Identification of Sub-Thirty Hectare Sites and other recommendations to support domestic horticulture industry as it transitions to peat alternatives’, Mr Boland also made a number of additional recommendations that he felt should be considered in address the challenges the horticulture sector is facing. The department also commissioned planning experts, Des Johnson and Padraic Thornton to provide guidance on the regulatory process for the extraction of peat on sub 30-hectare sites. The report entitled ‘User’s Guide for the regulatory processes (planning and environmental) that apply specifically to peat extraction activity for horticultural purposes on sites of less than 30ha in Ireland’ builds on the report commissioned by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Minister McConalogue said:
“The horticulture sector is a critical one in our overall agri-food industry. The sector produces top quality food that is enjoyed by people across the country. The extraction of peat for the Irish professional horticultural industry in recent years has been challenging from a legal and regulatory perspective. These challenges remain but I thank the respective experts for the work to-date. My colleague, Minister Hackett, with direct responsibility for the horticulture sector, continues to engage with Ministerial colleagues across Government to agree the next steps in ensuring that there will be an adequate supply of peat for the horticulture sector in the short-term. It is a key focus of the department and us, as Ministers, to plot a sustainable and bright future for the growers and the industry as a whole.”

Minister Hackett outlined:
“The second report produced by Mr Johnson and Mr Thornton provides regulatory guidance for those wishing to engage with the regulatory process for the extraction of peat on sub 30-hectare sites. As Minister with responsibility for Horticulture, I recognise the need for the supply of peat for the domestic horticultural industry during the transitionary period to peat-free alternatives. Peat is a finite and precious resource and there are regulatory processes in place to protect it, therefore I encourage peat extractors to examine the guidance and engage fully with the regulatory systems in place.”

Minister Heydon said:
“My department continues to support and facilitate research in the development of alternatives to peat for horticulture, and whilst there is good progress these alternatives will take more time to come to fruition and industry continues to need access to a viable growing medium in the interim to protect jobs and the sector.”

For more information:
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine  
www.gov.ie


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