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3,600 tonnes of Latvian peat arrives in Ireland

Growing Media Ireland call on government to act to save the 17,000 jobs at risk

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Horticulture

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23 September 2021 | 0

Near 4,000 tonnes of horticultural peat arrived in Ireland on 18 September, marking the first time this country has had to import horticultural peat following the ban on peat harvesting.

A convoy of over 200 trucks collected the freight of horticultural peat which travelled over 3,000KMs to Ireland from Latvia. This compares to an average of 10KMs when peat was harvested locally in a Westmeath factory prior to its effective banning in Ireland.

Many scheduled shipments from the Baltic states and other EU countries are expected over the coming weeks and months to supply Ireland’s horticultural sector.

All sectors of Irish horticulture, including mushroom and small fruit and vegetable growers are severely affected. However, not only will growers and horticultural peat sector be impacted but food prices are expected to increase as a result of peat importation and inevitably passed on to consumers.

Horticultural peat harvesting has ceased in Ireland since September 2019 following a High Court ruling that has resulted in harvesting of peat from Irish bogs greater than 30 hectares required to navigate a complex four stage licensing and planning. All other EU countries have a single system.

The imported peat is to supplement the reserve supplies of Irish peat that have now been almost exhausted, forcing the sector to import peat into Ireland at a higher cost both financially and environmentally, placing 17,000 jobs across Ireland’s horticultural sector at risk.

According to Growing Media Ireland (GMI), the representative group for the majority of horticultural peat and growing media producers in Ireland, the cost of importing horticultural peat could be up to three times the cost of sourcing peat in Ireland. The importation of horticultural peat also has considerable environmental consequences, with significant carbon emissions resulting from transporting the peat 3,000KMs by sea.

GMI is now calling on the government to secure the resumption of peat production in Ireland immediately to avoid a sector wide financial and environmental crisis. It is seeking a fair and workable licensing system that will provide for the phasing out of horticultural peat harvesting over a transition period to 2030, allowing alternatives to be developed but ensuring that there is a secure supply of Irish sourced growing media during that period, so the sustainable horticultural sector is not jeopardised.

“The nuclear scenario for our sector that we warned the Government of last year has been realised,” said John Neenan, chairman of GMI. “The ban on harvesting for the last two years has meant Irish reserves of horticultural peat are now exhausted, and we are fully reliant on expensive imports from abroad.”

“This has resulted in hugely increased costs, which will have a real impact on the competitiveness of Ireland’s fruit and vegetable sector, and ultimately will lead to higher food prices for families. Horticultural peat is a universal ingredient for almost all plant species in almost all production systems in Ireland.

“We estimate at least two shipments the size of what arrived in Ireland this week will be required each month to meet Ireland’s needs, travelling thousands of kilometres and creating a huge carbon footprint. It is a crazy scenario we are facing giving horticultural peat is readily available and can be harvested in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner in this country.

“The message we are sending out is that Ireland is quite happy to import peat and cause greater environmental damage than sourcing it at home with a workable licensing system that will provide for a transition to alternatives over the coming years. Countries in the EU have taken such a practical approach by phasing production out over the next decade.”

“We are now calling on the Ministers of Agriculture, Environment and Housing to find an immediate resolution to the financial and environmental crisis now engulfing Ireland’s horticultural sector, and provide for a return to production in Ireland.”

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