Defra has said the omission of peat phase-out targets from the Government's response to the Sustainable Growing Media Task Force road map for a peat-free future was an oversight.
The Government has set targets of 2020 for the end of retail sales of peat and 2030 for the end of professional use, but made no specific mention of them in the 18-page document.
A Defra representative said: "Targets are unchanged and will be reviewed in 2015. They are not mentioned because there is no change."
HTA policy adviser Gary Scroby said not mentioning targets is a "good thing if you have not got to the stage where they can be achieved".
The Defra response to the road map for ending peat use (HW, 28 September 2012) does include 2015 targets for Government and public bodies to stop using plants supplied in peat, but created a grey area by adding: "In recognition of current technical constraints the standard excludes, for now, residual peat from the original propagation of the plant. Plants will be allowed to be sold that have been rooted in peat."
Scroby said the Government would concentrate on a "sprinkling" of exemplars to show other local authorities how they could be peat-free. He said the Olympics showed a peat-free public project could be done and HS2 is an obvious future exemplar.
Grower RC Smith said councils do not always check the accuracy of growers' details on method statements - the forms growers fill out detailing their environmental and other credentials - so they could claim to be peat-free when they are not.
Friends of the Earth policy director Craig Bennett added that progress is needed by 2015 or regulation should be brought in.
Research programme: Overcoming barriers to peat alternatives
A £1m five-year research programme, run by the Horticultural Development Company, is designed to overcome barriers to peat alternatives and demonstrate the viability of new products.
There will be a £100,000 fund to develop demonstration projects to show the public sector the benefits of sustainable growing media and a Growing Media Panel chaired by Dr Alan Knight to develop a performance standard for amateur bagged media; complete RHS-led work defining sustainability criteria for growing media ingredients and integration of this into an auditable industry scheme via the Growing Media Initiative; develop a five-year research and development plan to address commercial horticulture's concerns; and promote and transfer information generated by nursery growing media trials.
Industry views on road map to peat-free production
Ben Malin, Somerset Peat Producers Association: "It is vital that agreed responsible sourcing criteria are in place as soon as possible so that the targets can be reviewed in 2015. Government must then review the National Planning Policy Framework because it is perverse that current planning guidance prevents access to responsibly sourced UK peat."
Graham Ward, consultant: "It is good Defra sees the need for some proper research rather than lots of empirical mixtures based on cost. It's problematic that they have no accepted head on the risk of weedkiller residues in municipal composts - and it's a pity there's no support for independent gardeners' choice education and a dependency on retailers' choice, which has been so disastrous for gardeners."
Dr Chris Hartfield, NFU horticultural adviser: "While we welcome that the Government has accepted in principle that the agenda needs to be widened out and focus on the sustainability of all growing-media materials and not just peat. It is a little disappointing that it is not yet willing to fully embrace this new approach."
Tom de Vesci, Horticultural Coir: "The report points out three good reasons for the transition to a sustainable growing media - it makes good business sense, it will improve long-term sustainability and it will help protect the environment. The response identifies two flagship projects from the task force - performance standards and a set of responsible sourcing and manufacturing criteria. Work is continuing on both of these, neither of which is easy or straightforward, but ultimately this work will be fundamental in providing clear guidance to fit in with the plans and timelines set out by the Government response."
Simon Manley, Carbon Gold: "Carbon Gold welcomes the £1m pledge from Richard Benyon for research into alternatives to peat. Our 2012 field trials, in conjunction with 19 professional growers across the UK, have shown that our blend of biochar and coir is a low-carbon, sustainable and effective alternative to peat."
Bernard Burns, chief executive, William Sinclair Holdings: "My first reaction to the report was that a lot of time has been wasted to produce some typical Government waffle. Does £1m for research demonstrate commitment to the cause? I think not. There still seems to be an overoptimistic role for green compost. The current chemical make-up of the compost limits the use of the material in horticulture. The document does not mention that growing-media manufacturers should be involved in setting the specifications."