Horticultural Development Company to begin alternative growing media project in the new year

A £1m project to introduce growing media peat compost alternatives to the horticulture industry begins in January 2015.

Jon Knight
Jon Knight

The project funded by Defra, the Horticultural Development Company (HDC) and industry into responsibly sourced growing media is called ‘Transition to responsibly sourced growing media use within UK horticulture’, and is worth £1 million over the next five years. The work has emerged from the previous work of the Defra Sustainable Growing Media Task Force.

Work will "focus on easing the transition from a dependence on peat to the acceptance and uptake of a broad range of proprietary, responsibly sourced growing media by the horticultural industry". 

ADAS, Institute of Food Research (IFR), plus "industry experts, growing media companies and horticultural production businesses, will advocate a move away from iterative trials towards an innovative predictive model which will target desirable blends at least financial cost".  To validate the model, large-scale on-site grower demonstration and R&D trials will be utilised for data gathering.

Stockbridge Technology Centre, Susie Holmes, Dove Associates, Paul Waller and Audrey Litterick will collaborate with project leaders ADAS and IFR in the project.

Smaller trials will be at STC and Boxworth.

Sinclair, Everris, Bord na Mona and Bulrush are compost companies involved.

Growers involved are: Lowaters, James Coles, Wyevale Nurseries, Darby Nursery Stock, Roundstone, Bordon Hill, Double H, Ivan Ambrose, Frank Matthews, New Farm, Hargreaves Plants, Vitacress, Lincolnshire Herbs, G's and Delfland. Mechanical Botanical will work on new equipment trials.

HDC knowledge transfer manager Wayne Brough said: "This is as much a knowledge transfer project as a research one." He said Defra's work on the Growing Media Task Force P7 sustainability and P4 fit for purpose projects would continue alongside the transition project.

The new project will trial blends of coir, bark, wood fibre and green waste, and peat will not be discarded either.

Brough added: "This is not politics. We're not getting involved in deadlines. It may be that peat still needs to be part of any future [growing media mix] and there's an agreement with Defra that can happen. This is purely for the industry to find the best blends for responsible growing media."

HDC said the "experimental work and the application of the model will be used to promote the benefits to the industry of developing cost-effective and optimal performing raw material combinations". 

HDC R&D head Jon Knight said: "The commencement of this project is urgently needed by the horticulture industry which increasingly requires tried and tested, responsible growing media choices as well as access to information on the most effective and refined blends.  This project will enable a robust set of trials, coupled with a structured flow of knowledge between the research community and industry, which will increase the confidence of commercial growers towards using progressive, innovative refined and of course responsibly sourced growing media."

The first meeting of the industry project steering groups is planned for 10 February 2015.

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