Peat – setting the record straight

First published: 04 November 2022

A stream running into the River Teify at Cors Carnon Nature Reserve also known as the Tregaron Bog a 12,000 year old raised peat bog at Tregaron Wales

Since Defra announced its intention to legislate for a ban on the sale of peat by the end of 2024, there has been much confusion and speculation about what this means for professional growers, not aided by inaccurate headlines in the press. NFU horticulture and potatoes adviser Christine McDowell sets out the facts on the current situation.

As I write, we have a new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, with a new Defra Secretary of State in post. The recent period of political uncertainty stretches across into policy development – not least the expected ban on the sale of peat growing media by 2024.

Exemptions for edible and ornamental growers beyond 2024

Defra has said that a ban in the professional sector is likely to come at a much later date, potentially into the next decade, in recognition of the complex challenges growers are up against in shifting to alternative materials and the associated knock-on impacts to the market.

The 2024 date therefore relates only to the amateur sector.

Exemptions for professional growers are likely to be timebound and for specific technical reasons. It’s expected Ministers will decide nearer Christmas on the detail.

Industry engagement

Defra has been engaging across both the edible and ornamental sector to understand what requires an exemption, why and for how long.

Discussions to date have focused on the technical challenges associated with moving away from peat such as in propagation, plug, blocking and module production.

Discussions have also focused on the specific challenges where no alternative is available, such as in mushroom production.  There are of course other crops with specific challenges which Defra is aware of, particularly in the ornamental sector.

Defra has also been asking the industry what support is needed for growers to shift to alternative materials.

A clear ask from all growers is to allow for sufficient time to move, supported by government unblocking policy barriers in accessing a variety of sustainable alternative materials, grant funding for infrastructure, equipment, and R&D into finding new materials.

The NFU and several growers have also met with the Office of Internal Markets, which is considering the implications to the functioning of the internal market, of an English only ban. We continue to provide support as part of this review, which is expected to complete in February 2023.

The NFU doesn’t want to see legislation

The NFU, along with others from the Growing Media Taskforce continue to maintain that legislation is not the right mechanism to shift the industry to sustainable alternative growing media.

As a responsible sector, conscious of our own environmental footprint, collectively we acknowledge the need to reduce our peat use and indeed are doing so annually.

But there are challenges and unintended consequences to consider, such as having alternative materials available at scale and ensuring a level playing field with imports.

As an industry we must also consider carefully that we are not exporting our carbon footprint by shifting to unsustainable alternatives.

As such, we are calling on the government to work with industry to remove policy barriers and support growers to find sustainable alternatives through funding and R&D.

As we await to hear who takes up ministerial responsibility of this policy area, under the new Conversative leadership, the Growing Media Taskforce, of which the NFU is members of, are posed with a joint letter requesting a meeting with the new Minister to discuss matters further.

Facts

  • Defra received over 5,000 responses to its consultation earlier this year, many of which were from NGO led public campaigns. Growers and industry bodies also submitted industry views.
  • Around 0.5 million tonnes of C02 is emitted from UKs use of peat in growing media in the UK, out of a total UK CO2e emissions of 205 million tonnes; peat in UK growing media account for 0.12% of the UKs carbon emissions and is already rapidly falling
  • Peat extraction in the UK is from around 1,000 hectares or 0.04% of the UK’s peatlands and is falling rapidly.
  • Industry reduced the volume of peat it used in 2021 vs 2020 by 0.5m (30%) cubic metres in the growing media supplied to gardeners
  • Peat is no longer the most voluminous component in growing media sold to gardeners, having been overtaken by wood-based materials such as wood fibre.

Follow the journey of the government's plans to ban the use of peat in horticulture

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