NFU claims Defra's peat-free plan will fail due to lack of replacement growing media

Defra's plan to stop garden centres selling peat by 2020 will fail because there is not enough peat replacement material available, according to the NFU.

Last month, Defra secretary of state Hilary Benn announced that the Government wanted garden centres to stop selling any peat by 2020 under the Act on CO2 peat campaign.

But the NFU said: "It looks set to fail before it has started, according to Defra's own figures." It based this on a new Defra report, which stated that the projected total volume of alternatives available to the UK growing media industry in 2020 will be 3,420,000cu m.

To be 100 per cent peat-free by 2020, the amateur gardening growing media market will require most of these alternatives (3,080,000cu m), leaving just 340,000cu m of alternatives available for professional growers. The report projects professional growers' demand for growing media to be 1,114,000cu m in 2020, leaving a big shortfall.

NFU horticulture adviser Chris Hartfield said the principles behind the NFU peat policy have been about basing policies on evidence and claimed: "There is not sufficient science behind this. It's not about proand anti-peat but about how policies affect growers by not being based on sound evidence."

He added: "The report clearly demonstrates that the supply of peat alternatives is unlikely to meet the demand required as a result of unrealistic Defra policies."

Sinclair Horticulture chief executive Bernard Burns said: "We agree that there will be a shortage of raw materials. If the Government is serious about wanting to replace peat in horticulture it has to get its act together. The problem is caused by Government policy."

He added that mixing of contaminants into doorstep and amenity collections remained a problem: "The Government has to make sure collections are not contaminated. People have so many recycling bins they don't know which one to put things in."

Burns said Sinclair had a new system for producing green waste compost nicknamed "Muncher" that could produce 1.5cu m of compost a year, not accounted for by Defra, by using larger pieces of green waste that would usually go to landfill.

"This will contribute towards the targets set by Government but serious changes still need to be made if it wants to get peat out of compost," he insisted. "The cart has gone before the horse. If the consumer did stop buying peat, all it would do is create a shortage."

Defra said: "The Act on CO2 campaign is about encouraging gardeners to use peat-free alternatives now, not about meeting targets."

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