Industry stakeholders fear ‘wipe out’ by September due to peat shortage and soaring import costs
A solution to the deepening horticulture industry crisis may be possible before this season’s peat harvest, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has indicated.
Addressing the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Department official Brian Lucas confirmed that, after a prolonged period, a chairman has been appointed to a working group that will examine a recent review on the use of peat moss in the horticulture industry.
Dr Munoo Prasad - described as an independent consultant and researcher who has worked for the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Bord na Móna - will head up the grouping of representatives from relevant Government departments, state agencies, environmental non-Government organisations and horticulture industry stakeholders.
Speaking after urgent economic concern was heard from mushroom, vegetable, nursery and horticulture peat representatives – who fear “enforced shutdown” by September this year due to peat shortages and soaring costs – Mr Lucas said a “short-term solution may be possible”.
“A lot of the issues raised by the stakeholders were identified in the review report. What we have to do now is to get everyone around the table in the working group and to see what solutions we can come up with – and what can be done for this season…and for the long term.
“We envisage having the first meeting very quickly. The chair will produce a report on deliberations of the working group and present a report to Minister Malcom Noonan.
“We would envisage that it would take a maximum of six months. However, I don’t see any reason why there couldn’t be an interim report on the supply of peat for the horticulture industry for this year.
If, for example, there was a solution on that with the month that could be moved forward and the rest of the working group’s work on looking at alternatives could go ahead.”
“We are trying to facilitate solutions, the review is clear that there are positives and negatives, there is no easy answer and there are complexities so that is why we want to get everyone into a room to come up with a solution.”
At the meeting, representatives of the IFA, Growing Media Ireland, Kildare Growers and the Commercial Mushroom Producer Co-Op Society called on committee members to push for the introduction of “urgent legislation” that would allow for the resumption of peat harvesting on some bogs.
They said the industry – which employs 17,600 people – is “completely hamstrung” by the current legal position on peat production in Ireland and Bord na Móna’s recent exit from peat.
With boatloads of peat imports now arriving in Ireland – the first shipment from Scotland arrived this week – representatives said they will be forced to rely on peat alternatives from the Baltic States, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the UK over the coming months as there is no viable peat alternative in Ireland.
Committee members described the situation as “total hypocrisy” in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and impact on rural areas. The committee also urged the Department to find “immediate solutions” before this year’s peat harvesting season commences in April.
John Neenan of Growing Media Ireland: “The law is impossible. The horticulture industry is facing enforced closure by September this year, it will be wiped out. Transport costs gone up 300pc and the cost of peat is 50pc higher.
“Our legal advisors say that it is possible to exempt peat from planning and that such new legislation could be beefed up with other environmental obligations that would allow us to harvest peat responsibly on the limited area of peatlands that we use – 1,700ha or approximately 0.12pc of total Irish peatlands.”