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Horticulture industry responds to Bord na Móna ending peat harvesting operations

Tim Schram says the decision threatens the very existence of the commercial horticultural industry

Community reeling after being ‘let down’ by Bord na Móna’s announcement

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15 January 2021 | 0

Bord na Móna has formally ended all peat harvesting on its lands, in a move that members of the horticulture community have called ‘disgraceful’.

The company’s last full peat harvest took place in 2018, followed by a partial harvest in 2019. It suspended peat harvesting operations last year following a landmark 2019 High Court decision that ruled all peat harvesting on bogs over 30 hectares require planning permission.

Bord an Móna has now decided to make this suspension permanent and will cease any remaining harvesting preparations, including planning and substitute consent applications.

Tom Donnellan, chief executive of Bord na Móna said: “Today marks the formal end to the company’s association with peat harvesting, as we move on to tackle the critical challenges concerning climate change, energy supply, biodiversity and the circular economy.”

It will continue to supply customers with peat briquettes and horticultural peat from stocks of peat which has already been harvested, and said it expects to supply nursery grower customers until summer of this year.

Bord na Móna’s Kilberry horticulture facility will be supported by existing peat reserves and continue operating as normal, while its Edenderry power station will further its transition to running exclusively on residual and sustainable biomass. The Derrinlough briquette factory will continue to manufacture peat briquettes until 2024.

Donnellan said the company is now ‘fully focused’ on renewable energy generation, recycling, and the development of other low carbon enterprises. “While there are many advantages to the changes we have made,” he said, “the key benefits include the high value, sustainable employment we are providing and the significant support we are delivering to Ireland’s objective, to become carbon neutral by 2050.”

However, the news was met with concern from members of the Irish horticulture community. After hearing the announcement, Tim Schram, director of Schram Plants, told Growtrade.ie that he is ‘worried about the future of the industry’.

“The decision to cease all peat harvesting is threatening the commercial horticultural industries very existence,” he said. “While we represent less than 1% of annual harvest, the very products produced by the industry enhance biodiversity, carbon capturing, and wildlife habitats.

“Peat harvested and used within the commercial horticulture sector is returned to the soil, unlike peat which has been used to power electricity plants, releasing its stored carbon to the atmosphere.”

Schram also highlighted that growers will now be forced to import peat into Ireland, which he said creates a “much greater carbon footprint, destroying the very environment I supply plants to help save.”

He continued: “Bord na Móna has let us all down by exporting and burning the very peat that it guaranteed for horticulture for the 2021 season.”

Larry Doran of Doran Nurseries and chairman of the Kildare Growers Group told Growtrade.ie that while he appreciates the environmental sentiment behind the announcement, he said the “logic of transporting other materials such as Latvian or Russian peat and coir husks from coconut trees at the expense of cutting down the very precious rainforests halfway around the world is mind numbingly disgraceful.”

Those working in the nursery and horticultural industry “help protect our environment and Irish biodiversity,” said Doran. “We grow, propagate, and germinate beneficial plants and trees which absorb carbon and feed our bees, our birds, and our population. We have exclusively supported Bord na Móna in using just their compost for the last 35 years and feel let down by them without any real consideration or any form of dialogue before this bombshell.

Doran continued to plead with the government and the Minister for Agriculture to “please urgently help the industry find a short-term and long-term sustainable solution to this disaster.”

In a statement to Growtrade.ie, Wiet Rentes of Rentes Plants called the decision ‘bitterly disappointing’. Rentes said it is ‘unbelievable’ that “the current stocks held by Bord na Móna are going to be incinerated, as well as sent to the UK.” This, he said, “shows the regard the company has for its Irish customers.”

Like Doran and Schram, Rentes expressed concern over importing peat into Ireland as he said the cost and operational consequences of doing so are ‘huge’.

While Rentes is hopeful that the industry will be able to adapt, he said the transition may take some time. “We will get used to it,” he added, “but it will take time to organise and set up processes to handle this new situation.”

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