East Malling Research (EMR) has received a £78,000 research grant from Defra to identify a method for investigating whether compost samples contain peat as part of plans by the Government to ensure that all bagged compost is peat-free after 2020.
The year-long project got underway last week with a literature review of current testing methods. After discussions with Defra, EMR will develop techniques to assess which methods work best. The project will end in October 2012.
Defra wants to find a cheap and easy-to-administer test that will help ensure manufacturers are not including cheaper, lighter peat in bags of growing media after 2020.
EMR project leader Jean Fitzgerald said: "We are looking to determine a method to detect and measure the peat content in a bag of growing media."
Fitzgerald said she could not pre-judge which method might be best, but said carbon dating and molecular tests were options.
Defra announced voluntary targets this summer to end retail peat sales by 2020 and commercial peat use by 2030.
Supplier View of Quantitative Testing for Peat
Bernard Burns, chief executive, William Sinclair Holdings
"I believe that if the drive to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of peat in horticulture is to be credible, then being able to detect and prove the presence of peat in a mixed compost quantitatively is a prerequisite.
"It would also be a necessity should some form of legislative mechanism be used to compel the industry in the future.
"If this research succeeds, it will be interesting to compare what's in the bag with what some manufacturers say is in the bag. Carbon dating technology exists that could easily provide the information.
"I expect that what manufacturers say and what the tests show to be the case will be surprisingly different, which would call into question the validity of the Defra research that shows a reduction in the peat supplied to the market over the past 10 years."