Things appear to have gone quiet about peat in recent months, so it was no surprise that when I met nursery stock growers last week they asked me this question, writes horticulture adviser Chris Hartfield.
The question was also timely because the national press have run articles in recent weeks about the latest Which? compost trials, which have been fairly damning about peat-free composts.
In answer to the question ‘where are we on the peat ban?’ the first place to start is to remind everyone that there is no ban. Back in 2011 Government published in its natural environment white paper a series of voluntary milestones to reduce the horticultural use of peat to zero – in the public sector by 2015, peat use by amateur gardeners by 2020, and a move out of peat for professional growers by 2030. The Government said it would also review this policy in 2015.
Also part of the white paper, Government gave a commitment to create a taskforce to look at the problem, and which as a result of the involvement and lobbying of the NFU and others, looked at the evidence and widened the debate to address the sustainability of ALL growing media materials (rather than just looking at one material in isolation).
As a result of this Sustainable Growing Media Taskforce, there is now a strategy and a number of projects underway on this issue.
One of the projects is developing a minimum performance standard for bagged multipurpose compost to give consumers confidence that what they buy is actually fit for purpose. The need for this is hammered home by the recent Which? compost tests which stated: “year after year our trials reveal some compost, even from well-known brands, isn’t fit for purpose.” Which? went on to say that: “Peat-free composts have never done brilliantly in our trials….none was good enough from 2013 trials to recommend.”
The serious concern being addressed by the ‘fit for purpose’ project is that consumers who experience failures with composts may be put off gardening as a hobby.
Another project underway is addressing the future goal that all growing media and soil improvers should be made from raw materials that are environmentally and socially responsibly sourced and manufactured. To be able to move towards this we first need to develop a way to measure the environmental and social impacts of different growing media materials. That is what this project is setting out to do. One output from this work would be a tool that helps growers understand the impacts of the growing media they use, and provide them with the information they need to switch to other media with a different or lower impact, where this change is economically viable for their businesses.
There is also work being done to look at how a demand for responsibly sourced growing media can be worked into public sector procurement, such as that by local authorities as well as central Government.
The progress of this work will come under the spotlight in 2015 when Government reviews its policy on peat use. The success of this work and of any Government policy after 2015 will continue to depend heavily on the appropriate use of the available evidence, and the NFU will continue to work hard on behalf of growers to make sure this evidence drives policy.