The research funding has been made available as part of the Government’s response to a report from the Sustainable Growing Media Task Force.
The Task Force, comprised of retailers, manufacturers and growers, was set up to help the horticulture industry manage the transition from using increasingly scarce supplies of peat to using sustainable growing products such as compost from garden waste.
Benyon said: "Britain is a nation of gardeners but peat is a precious and finite resource and we need to find alternatives for gardening before it runs out.
"I’m delighted that the task force has shown us the way forward. The horticultural sector has already made great strides towards reducing its reliance on peat but I want to see more alternatives developed. The research project I’m announcing today should help them do just that."
New Government initiatives to support the task force include:
- A £1 million five-year research programme, managed in partnership with the Horticultural Development Company, and half-funded by Government to overcome barriers to alternatives to peat and demonstrate the viability of new products.
- A £100,000 fund to develop demonstration projects to show the public sector the benefits of using sustainable growing media.
- A new ‘Growing Media Panel’ under the chairmanship of Dr Alan Knight to oversee and co-ordinate the delivery of plans for the future of the gardening and horticulture industry.
Defra said: "The horticultural industry is over-reliant on peat and the second consecutive poor peat harvest across Europe is predicted to lead to shortages of growing media and increased prices, with peat being imported into the UK from abroad.
"The new panel will work with the horticulture industry to come up with a high quality standard for manufacturers to use so that consumers have confidence in the efficacy of new products being developed.
"A move to renewable products rather than using finite sources of peat will help businesses to thrive by ensuring their long-term future with a regular supply of growing material for plants."
The Horticultural Trades Association has welcomed the "endorsement" by Benyon of the roadmap of actions agreed by the Sustainable Growing Media Task Force to establish a more responsible future for growing media.
The Task Force conclusions and recommendations were published in a report from the chairman Dr Alan Knight in the middle of last year.
The industry will now take forward the recommendations on:
- Development of a performance standard for amateur bagged media
- Completion of the RHS-led work on defining sustainability criteria for all growing media ingredients and integration of this into an auditable industry scheme (potentially via the Growing Media Initiative)
- Development of a five year R&D plan to address commercial horticulture’s technical concerns
Promotion and transfer of information generated by nursery growing media trials
HTA business development director Tim Briercliffe said: "Defra’s endorsement of the Task Force conclusions now enables industry to take forward projects that were identified to develop a more responsible growing media industry."
Growing Media Association chairman James Hayes added: "We are pleased that Defra has supported the outcomes of the Task Force which brought together a wide range of stakeholders on this important issue. The roadmap illustrates agreed actions and milestones that will help deliver a socially and environmentally responsible future for our industry."
The Government Response to the Sustainable Growing Media Task Force is available at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/publications/2013/01/17/pb13834-sustainable-growing-media/.