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GMI slams government response to horticultural sector crisis

Group warns that the “lack of urgency demonstrated by the government is contributing to the uncertainty facing the future of Irish horticulture”

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17 January 2022 | 0

Growing Media Ireland (GMI) said it is “outraged” by the government response to the final report from the Working Group on the Use of Peat Moss in the Horticultural Industry, which was published today.

Led by independent chair Dr Munoo Prasad, the working group was primarily tasked with examining the potential of alternatives to peat for the horticultural industry.

Following the publication of its report, the government announced a joint programme of action to support Irish horticultural growers who are dependent on peat.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) worked with the Departments of Environment, Climate and Communications, and Housing, Local Government and Heritage, to develop proposals that support the €469 million horticulture industry. These include:

  • commissioning an independent expert to assess levels and suitability of current stocks of peat across all suppliers, including Bord na Móna, for the Irish horticultural sector
  • commissioning experts on planning to provide free advice to those who wish to extract peat in a manner which is compliant with the relevant regulations on sub-30-hectare bogs
  • conducting research to deliver alternatives to peat for the horticulture sector

The DAFM said some level of import cannot be ruled out in the short term because “this has always been a factor in the peat industry in Ireland”.

It also said there is a regulatory pathway to legally compliant extraction, and the fastest route for the domestic industry appears to be small-scale extraction on previously drained sub-30-hectare bogs.

‘Slap in the face’

For GMI chairperson, John Neenan, however, the government’s response “completely ignored” recommendations made in the working group’s report.

“It’s a slap in the face for all who contributed to the working group report including the relevant government department representatives, growers, industry experts and the independent chair Dr Munoo Prasad who was nominated by Minister Noonan,” said Neenan in a statement. “The so-called series of actions from government will have severe environmental consequences with Ireland now fully reliant on importing large shipments all the way from the Baltic.”

Transition period

The series of actions make no reference to the transition to alternatives by 2035 as recommended in the working group report, Neenan said: “The government has completely ignored the transition period required from peat to alternatives, including a single consent model which deals with the critical issue of planning and harvesting of peat for horticulture. The existing legal framework is unworkable and will not deliver horticultural peat in the short to medium term for Irish growers and producers.”

He added that the hobby market had been “completely ignored” by the government, “despite the negative impact this will have and it will lead to significant imports to meet the demand for this market in Ireland.”

Inadequate stock

“The government noted that 2,000 tonnes would be made available by Bord na Móna for horticulture, however this equates to just two weeks of required stock for the mushroom sector. We’ve had at least 40,000 tonnes of horticultural peat imported into the island of Ireland since September.”

“The 17,000 jobs in horticultural sector remain at risk with no alternative in the government plan but large-scale imports. We need the working group recommendations to be adopted by the government to help the horticultural sector which is already on its knees – a clear plan, with definite timelines, outlining how the recommendations in the report will be implemented.”

Lack of urgency

“The lack of urgency demonstrated by the government is contributing to the uncertainty facing the future of Irish horticulture and the 17,000 jobs that depend on it.”

GMI, which is a representative group for horticultural peat and growing media producers in Ireland, said it has “invited Ministers Noonan, Hackett and Ryan, to meet us but no minister has yet accepted an invitation to meet us to discuss the issue.”

The government’s failure to allow peat harvesting for Irish horticulture for the coming growing season could lead to the “demise of the sector”, Neenan warned. “If the government fails to allow peat harvesting for Irish horticulture for the 2022 growing season, we may see the complete demise of the sector, with small growers shutting their doors. We need action now, not further reports by multiple government departments.”

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