A review that should be done

In its "rationale for action" on the use of peat in England, published alongside June's Natural Environment white paper, Defra's Impact Assessement is quite explicit about the link between its decision to pursue policy in this area and the EU Habitats Directive.

The implementation of this directive in the UK is now to be the subject of a review by Defra, following chancellor George Osborne's widely reported comments concerning the "gold-plating of EU rules" and their cost to business.

Surely there can be no better candidate for review than Defra's decision to introduce a blanket no-peat policy for all professional growers - irrespective of which crops they grow and the fact that some sectors simply could not operate profitably if peat use was completely eliminated. And with the threat of further regulation to boot.

As Defra knows from its own statistics, rising input costs for growers - and on the edibles side in particular, the worsening squeeze from supermarkets - have led to no fewer than a quarter of commercial growers in England and Wales making a loss in the past year. For certain crop sectors we are talking about a struggle for survival.

In such challenging circumstances, the very last thing we need are policies that deny UK growers a level playing field with their competitors in Europe. And yet this is precisely what the England-only ban on professional growers' use of peat in 2030 would mean.

All growers support the move to sustainable substrates when the right products are there. But not if the price will see their business transported abroad.

Kate Lowe, Editor - kate.lowe@haymarket.com


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