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Fears of vegetable shortages and price hikes due to peat exit

Westmeath county councillors have written to Climate Minister Eamon Ryan as backlash to Bord Na Móna's peat exit intensifies


Lettuce growing in bed of peat-based compost

Lettuce growing in bed of peat-based compost

Lettuce growing in bed of peat-based compost

Cross party county councillors in Westmeath have written to Climate and Environment Minister Eamon Ryan seeking intervention on Bord na Móna’s formal exit from peat harvesting in a bid to protect the mushroom and horticulture industry.

Following the semi-state company’s decision to end all harvesting of peat on its lands last week – as part of its transition to a climate solutions company – midlands-based councillors have been inundated with calls from constituents regarding its impact on peat compost supplies for the vegetable and plant growing sector.

Concern over jobs losses, food shortages and price hikes were heard from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Green Party and Labour councillors at last week’s meeting of the Athlone-Moate Municipal District.

And there was unanimous support to a motion from Tom Farrell that the councillors call on Minister Ryan to regulate the production of horticulture peat to allow the industry to continue. As it stands, around 10pc of BNM’s total landmass (200,00ac) is used for the production of horticulture peat.

Speaking to the Farming Independent councillor and suckler farmer Tom Farrell (FG) said: “A lot of people are very worried; we are all getting calls from vegetable growers, horticulture peat producers, gardening centres. They are deeply concerned about the impact of this decision on their livelihoods.

“Bord na Móna is more or less saying ‘good luck, we’re closing up now, fend for yourselves’ and the whole thing is going skew ways.

“People have been buying peat moss for years and years and years from the one source, it is the backbone of their businesses. Okay, they can go to other suppliers, but that means imports which is a total contradiction on the emissions side.

“There will be a scarcity of peat in this region and that is going to lead to vegetable and plant shortages and price increases across the board for everybody.

“In Westmeath alone I know of four huge suppliers of gardening centres, multiply that by 26 counties and you’re talking thousands of jobs long-term from our local shops, supermarkets and retailers.

“We had a lovely tradition with peat production built up over the years, a lot of hard work went into it, people are even expanding businesses, but now they don’t know if they’ll make it to the end of the year.

“Regulation is urgently needed and I would urge all the interest bodies and the farming organisations to come together on this.

“The closure of the power stations means emissions from harvesting peat have reduced by 97pc – surely, practical and fair solutions can be put in place to allow a small amount of peat harvesting to continue.

"Why not leave a small percentage of it going for the horticulture and mushroom industry, it could also be developed as a tourist attraction for people to come and see how this industry kept thousands of midlands people employed for generations - similar to the Arigna Mining Experience in Co. Roscommon.”

The situation is compounded by a 2019 High Court decision which ruled that all peat harvesting on bogs over 30ha now requires planning permission and EPA licencing – a process that can take years to complete.

Furthermore, Mr Farrell also warned that turf cutting on BNM bogs should also be allowed to continue.

“Cutting turf in Ireland is as old as Jerusalem, it’s as old as the day of god. It’s part of ourselves, our nature, our tradition.

“New houses being build are not allowed to have open fires, so turf will go out itself in time anyway, so there is no need for this.

"We can protect our bogs and continue our traditions together to sustain rural Ireland. But people who want turf for their houses should be allowed to do so. And if there are private people supplying rural Ireland with turf they should be allowed too.”

Bord na Móna stocks

BNM said it has signalled to nursery grower customers – including its international customers – that it will continue to fulfil orders of horticultural peat into 2021, while customers put in place agreements with their new suppliers.

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In a statement BNM said: "To date the company has been able to supply most of its nursery grower customers with their requirements, despite the nearly complete absence of any peat harvest since 2019.

"The company is currently reviewing its available stock and supply options. This review is being conducted with a view to extending the transition period to help meet the demand from these nursery grower customers (again in line with last year’s demand) well into the summer months.”

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