Market Report - Growing media

More and more firms are now developing and launching sustainable products, writes Sally Drury


Peat harvesting relies on warm, dry weather. The wettest summer for 100 years caused major problems for the UK and Irish peat harvest last year but dry conditions this summer are helping to ensure that harvests are progressing well.

One example is Everiss, as marketing manager Dave Steward explains:"Though still underway, Everris is working towards having a buffer stock for the coming season."

Everris has its own supplies of quality UK peat, as well as sources of high-quality imports from outside the UK. With growing media remaining an important part of its business, the company continues to invest in its expanded production unit at Nutberry, near Annan in Dumfries. The final phase was completed in autumn 2012 and a new ProBale machine is being installed ready for next season. Due to increased storage facilities and logistics, all stock is held at Nutberry — enabling the company to react quickly to peaks in demand. 

Everris has also worked with coir for many years, primarily importing and rehydrating coir blocks to produce material for inclusion in its Levington peat-reduced growing media mixes. Originally destined solely for the UK ornamentals sector, in recent years the company has responded to demand in the soft fruit sector for soil-less production systems and has expanded its coir processing operations.

"As part of the recent upgrade of facilities and equipment, our in-house engineers have designed and built a bespoke coir rehydration facility," says Steward. "Using professional grade coir, the blocks are processed through a designated bulk-rehydration facility, giving us complete control over the process."

While a lot of growing media manufacturers use peat from Ireland, LS Systems is the exclusive UK distributor for Hawita — a German company with peat bogs in Germany and on 3,000ha of land it owns in Latvia, where Hawita has two main factories, one of which opened last October and cost ¤12.4m. This allows Hawita to guarantee high volumes of substrate. As a result, LS Systems can offer most mixes requested by growers.

LS Systems horticultural sales director Peter Wessel says: "Hawita’s main products are blocked peat and milled peat, so we can mix different grades. We look at individual customer requirements and design a mix bespoke to them, working with the production schedule and supplying about three or four weeks from order."

Search for sustainability

Hawita has enough peat supplies for the next 50 years. Recent harvesting has been good and LS Systems is confident of a consistent supply of quality peat. But knowing that growers in the long term need to be looking at peat-free or peat-reduced substrates, the company is also looking for a sustainable product.

LS Systems managing director David Scott confirms it will go down that route as well. "We have been speaking to Hawita and discussing alternatives — either peat-fee or reduced — and it is taking that on board," he says.

This year the Klasmann-Deilmann Group is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Today, the company is a leading player in the global growing-media industry and its substrates provide the foundation for plant cultivation enterprises all over the world. But as well as looking back, Klasmann-Deilmann is also looking to the future. Dealing with natural resources such as peat, wood and compost, it has accumulated expertise that extends from obtaining raw materials and the development, production and marketing of growing media, to the restoration of former extraction sites.

Now Klasmann-Deilman is putting that expertise into developing new activities — including in the renewable energy sector. Projects include growing short-rotation forestry crops on its own sites in Germany and the Baltic region for subsequent use as raw materials as well as energy sources. In addition, the production of woodfibre for horticultural use has been commissioned in Ireland. The renewable raw material is obtained from sustained managed forests and Klasmann GreenFibre is a new constituent in Klasmann substrates. GreenFibre increases air capacity and drainage, ensures long-term structural stability, improves rewettability and encourages healthy and fast root development. Its low weight reduces transport costs.

Klasmann-Deilmann UK- representative William Bailey says: "Typically we are using GreenFibre at incorporation rates of 20 to 40 per cent and the balance is peat."

The reason for investing in woodfibre production facilities in Germany and Ireland is twofold. "Technical benefits can be gained in certain areas of crop applications and it addresses the aspiration to reduce peat use in the UK, as well as fitting in with Klasmann-Deilmann’s sustainability strategy," says Bailey.

The Sustainable Growing Media Task Force has made real progress and various projects on the "roadmap" are now being enacted. Many believe the industry is now in a much better place as a result of the work of the Task Force looking at all ingredients with an equal level of scrutiny.

Melcourt technical director Catherine Dawson says: "My personal view is that under the very impressive guidance of Alan Knight, we have managed to steer the debate away from polarity and controversy towards a commercially realistic way forward."

Dawson has been involved in a project developing a system that allows all growing media ingredients to be scrutinised across a range of sustainable criteria, so that one input will no longer get all the negative attention while the others get a free ride. "As bark producers we welcome the opportunity to demonstrate its credentials," she says. "I know of peat producers who feel likewise that the new system will bring proper evidence into consideration where in the past we have had too much speculation and conjecture."

Following on from the success of its Sylvamix peat-free range (Dawson prefers to call it "sustainable growing media"), Melcourt is introducing Sylvamix Seed & Cutting and Sylvamix Hanging Basket substrates.

"Sylvamix Potting and Sylvamix Nursery Stock have become market leaders in the field of sustainable growing media, renowned for uniformity and for producing consistently good results," says Dawson. "Lack of uniformity has been a problem with some of the products aimed at professional growers, but it is an area that we take seriously. The quality of the ingredients — most of which we manufacture ourselves — is highly controlled and the products are consistently scrutinised with growing tests at our own in-house trials site."

Propagation mix

By popular demand, Melcourt has developed a Sylvamix for propagation. "It has long been a criticism from some quarters that peat-free plants are frequently potted on from peat-based liners or cutting compost," says Dawson. "This, together with the repeated request that we have received from customers, has encouraged us to develop a mix for use with vegetative propagation and seeds — other than the very fine for which a prescription Sylvamix Special would be more appropriate."

Sylvamix Seed & Cutting is a free-flowing blend including coir, Sylvafibre, Melcourt’s Propagation Bark and a low level of nutrients. It can be used in cell trays, plugs, root-trainers and open trays, where it is said to provide excellent air-water conditions for the development of strong rooting systems.

Neil Alcock of Seiont Nurseries has been an enthusiastic trialler of the new product. "We have had wonderful results with the Sylvamix Seed & Cutting," he confirms. "The rooting is excellent and the cuttings are clean and healthy. We will certainly be looking to extend its use as our propagation medium as it complements our use of Sylvamix for our liners so well."

The second new product from Melcourt — Sylvamix Hanging Basket — was also born out of customer demand, says Dawson. "As the Government’s targets for peat elimination in local authority and their own contracts looms [2015], Melcourt is receiving more and more interest from organisations which supply in to these markets," she says.

Sylvamix Hanging Basket is said to be perfect for any situation where extra moisture-holding capacity is desirable — council hanging baskets are a prime example. The inclusion of Celcote water management additive as standard helps to make the most of any added water and coupled with the rapid, strong rooting and establishment that is the norm with Silvamix, this product will prove to be a useful addition to the range.

The Jiffy Group continues to develop its "Born Sustainable" principle — its product ranges now feature peat-reduced and peat-free options. The group has offices and production facilities throughout the world. Its propagation Jiffy-7 pellets are produced in Norway and North America, biodegradable Jiffy-pots in Denmark and Canada, Preforma Glue Plugs in Holland, Spain, Japan and North America, and coir Grow-bags and Grow-blocks in Sri-Lanka. Jiffy also offers a wide range of tailor-made substrate mixes in bales, bags or loose.

Its latest product is Preforma in a completely peat-free option. A fully bounded glue-plug produced with a binding agent, its 35 per cent air content encourages even rooting and a superior take rate.

Jiffy has also introduced Jiffy Substrates "Powered by Tref". Jiffy Products UK sales and marketing manager Stephen Godfrey explains: "Since the acquisition of Tref BV by Jiffy Products International, the ideal situation has always been to integrate Tref into the Jiffy Group of companies — internationalising the substrates known under the Tref brand into a new series of Jiffy substrates, hence ‘Powered by Tref.’"

He adds that Jiffy "uses the knowledge Tref has built up over almost a century of producing quality mixes to ‘power’ its Jiffy substrates".

The range includes Container, Nursery Stock Premium, Peat-Free General Purpose, Peat-Free Large Pots, Pot Bedding, Cuttings Plus, Propagation Long Term and Seeding Plus.

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