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BPOA Growers have been reducing peat consumption for over twenty years responding to initiatives driven by NGO’s such as the RSPB , DEFRA and environmentally aware retailers such as B&Q . Initially, this was a wildlife led approach and many growers responded by measures such as stopping the use of peat from SSSI sites and latterly, as production at UK sites has stopped, the debate has moved to a broader debate about carbon and peat.
Over the period to date growers have funded extensive research on peat alternatives and growing media mixes through the AHDB, with DEFRA support in some cases, and have run numerous trials on their own nurseries. This has led to a nearly 40% reduction in the amount of peat present in commercial growing media, mostly funded by a reduction in grower margins.
Extra cost For a number of years many bedding and pot plant growers have felt confident enough in commercially available peat free mixes to consider growing the majority of their crop in these mixes. However, until now, with a few notable exceptions, retailers and consumers have not been comfortable with supporting the unavoidable extra costs of these growing media.
There are obvious challenges in the supply chain, some which have helped to drive this change and others that will create difficulties in the delivery of the raw materials required. However, with the support of customers there are now opportunities for investment in the materials supply chain and the ability to compete effectively for key components with other uses of wood (for woodfibre production) and coir.
Peat policy Given this change is now happening at a far greater rate than before there would seem to be no need for some of the draconian measures to control peat use that have been mooted and if these measures can be avoided this would also allow the use of peat (possibly sourced in the future from paludiculture) for some specific uses where there are still no practical alternative mixes. If DEFRA do feel the need for intervention this would be best focussed on incentivising growers to reduce their peat usage as a public good similar to schemes used in agriculture.
One major concern for growers has been the seeming disinterest in other European countries in the peat debate and therefore a perceived lack of fairness competing with growers still free to use cheaper growing media containing peat. This also appears to be changing fast with Germany, for example,, not only setting targets for the cessation of peat use by 2030 but also taking an interest in the use of other materials.
Carbon Whilst these developments seem positive BPOA growers would strike a note of caution in that we should not blindly replace peat with alternatives that may have their own issues with sustainability in the future. The BPOA supports the Responsible Sourcing Scheme but notes that one of the key sustainability issues, carbon, is not currently evaluated due to the complexity involved. The BPOA would strongly encourage those leading the peat debate to focus on this issue to ensure we have fully sustainable growing media in the future.