According To Edwards ... Ministers left behind as debate moves on

The murky waters of the peat or sustainable growing media discussion are starting to clear.

In the good old days, some people were rightly upset that a number of precious ecologies were threatened by peat extraction and the radical solution suggested was that horticulture should stop using the stuff. Growers and retailers felt aggrieved with that because, they pointed out, horticulture only accounts for a small percentage of peat use.

The subject grew more complicated because planning legislation now protects the most precious of those landscapes and good sense demanded that we talk about "responsibly sourced" growing media rather than "peat-free". But what exactly is a sustainably sourced growing medium?

Work is starting to establish a means of comparing the sustainability credentials of products in growing media. In time, there will be an empirical method of establishing whether a product achieves standards. Then it will be easy for customers to insist that suppliers use a more sustainable product.

I can even see our European competitors moving in a similar direction. Most European growers do not realise it yet, but pressure is building to require them to demonstrate responsible sourcing of sustainable raw materials too.

What saddens me is that while the trade is working hard to make sense of this - at the Government's request - the Government is failing to keep up. Ministers still write to each other about peat-free growing media, procurement guidelines now demand plants are supplied "peat-free" and the target of all Government-procured products being peat-free by 2015 is still in place, although the coalition has still not defined what it means by "Government procurement".

We are in a different, better place now because of the action provoked by the 2015 target, but surely Government should reflect the good work done by the task force and come up with something more meaningful.

Tim Edwards is chairman of Boningale Nurseries


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