German peat proposal could “bring about the end of the Irish horticultural industry”, Senator says

Fine Gael Senator Regina Doherty has written to Seanad Leader Minister McConalogue ahead of today’s meeting of the European Agriculture and Fisheries Council. The meeting is set to discuss a proposal by the German delegation on peat reduction in horticultural growing media.

Addressing Minister McConologue, Senator Doherty writes:

“As you are aware over the past 12 months, I have been working with the horticultural industry to find a solution to the issue where our horticultural growers must purchase imported peat because we refuse to allow people to harvest peat from Irish bogs purely to propagate Irish fruit and veg.

Firstly, it is scandalous that our horticultural growers are forced to purchase imported and very expensive peat from places like Poland & Latvia, when we should be supplying them with peat from Irish bogs, however, putting that aside for a moment, this working paper from the Thϋnan Institute which is up for discussion at your EU council meeting on Tuesday will unequivocally, bring about the end of the Irish horticultural industry unless it takes individual member states concerns and allows for further thought, engagement and research.”

Senator Doherty goes on to explain that the horticulture industry has embraced research into sustainable peat alternatives, the necessity for which was laid out in the Government’s Review of the use of Peat Moss in Horticulture, published in January.

“As an industry, for food production, I do support a transition to sustainable alternatives to peat and there is work under way & funding made available through your department and Teagasc to research and develop these alternative, but we are not there yet. The current ‘alternatives’, such as compostable green waste, coir (discarded coconut husk), woodfibre etc, none of them currently provide the same crop yields & are more costly and the environmental impact is unclear. For some sectors such as mushroom growing there are no suitable alternatives available. This means that the only solution available is to import horticultural peat.

The first recommendation of the Review of the use of Peat Moss in Horticulture stated, ‘Irish peat should be available over the short term in sufficient quantities. For the professional horticulture sector. This is absolutely critical for the 2022 season. It should be noted the amounts used in horticulture are miniscule in terms of hitherto peat extraction.'”

Addressing the German proposal

Senator Doherty asserts that the “proposal from the German delegation aims to completely remove all availability of peat as a growing medium for the horticultural industry by banning all harvesting and importation of peat in the EU. This is not a just solution to allow for a just transition.”

The senator continues: “I do however see that the proposal from the German delegation is worthwhile in its ambition to reduce the carbon footprint of the agricultural sector, but it does not deal with the impacts this radical paper will have on the industry, the jobs it sustains and the wider topic of food security particularly in the Irish context. The Thϋnan Institute Report which this paper is based off does not deal with up-to-date facts and certainly does not deal with facts from an Irish horticultural standpoint.”

Senator Doherty suggests that the German proposal fails to promote suitable alternatives to peat, and does not account for a period of transition for the industry:

“The final line of the paper is most concerning where it states, ‘Therefore, the Commission is invited to develop a joint EU strategy to promote peat reduction in growing media produced and used in EU countries.’ – There is no mention of the Commission being invited to research and develop alternatives or protect the thousands of jobs associated with horticulture or taking into consideration food security. These concerns need to be discussed and included in this paper.”

The Senator concludes:

“I urge you Minister to reflect on these points made and make it very clear at the upcoming meeting, the concerns of the Irish horticultural sector that this paper in its current iteration is unworkable as far as the Irish government is concerned. I’d like to also suggest you inform the Council that the relevant departments should engage with the Irish horticultural growers through the IFA horticultural & mushroom committee and Growing Media Ireland so a workable solution can be secured and that adequate resources are provided by the EU to research and develop alternatives to peat to allow for a just transition so we reach our climate targets of net zero emissions by 2050.”