Peat shortages in 2013 could lead to 15 per cent plant price rises, growers and growing-media suppliers have warned.
Sinclair said it has harvested just 20 per cent of the 570,000cu m expected because of record rainfall this season. Bord na Mona has brought in 37 per cent, its worst year ever, while Sinclair estimated that Europe-wide harvests are 30-50 per cent of normal levels, meaning 20 per cent price increases for growers.
Sinclair managing director Bernard Burns, who is stepping down, said the company's growing-media sales fell 19 per cent in the year to July and harvests are struggling too. Burns said he was paying 25 per cent more for peat than usual.
"If growers are insisting on the same mix this year they will get a real hike in price," he added. "There are question marks about whether the market will be able to supply enough. There's been a lot of crying wolf before but this year is going to be different. We're looking at a European shortage and importing from Canada."
Burns said 2013 was "going to be a traumatic year" for UK growers with poorer exchange rates and cautious ordering after an "horrendous" 2012. Current average prices for growers are up 20 per cent but "won't be the same next month", he added.
Johnsons of Whixley director Andrew Richardson said: "We're being told by suppliers that growing-media prices are up 15-20 per cent and it's the same in Holland." He added that growers' 2013 plant price rises "forced upon us" for amenity and retail customers are likely to be 10-15 per cent up.
Hillier nursery director Kevin Hobbs said: "In this marketplace, there is an emphasis on growers to absorb any peat price increase. Peat alternatives will look less expensive if peat prices do go up."
But Majestic Trees managing director Steve McCurdy said his supplier Bulrush has pledged not to raise prices to his nursery this year. "They say they have a year's reserves but with the bad harvest this year they will be short next year unless they have a good harvest season." He added: "I think it's a scare story."
Bulrush professional products director James Hayes said: "Prices are going to increase." He added that Bulrush has enough to meet commitments but a lack of peat from Bord na Mona, which said it too would be able to supply all its regular customers, will mean "not as much to make up shortages in the UK as before".
Hayes said: "Something's got to give. Our customers can't keep having their margins squeezed."
Woodlark Nurseries managing director Colin Edwards said putting plant prices up is unlikely because customer confidence "is not great", while grower David Howard added: "Sometimes you hear these stories so they can put the price up. You might find growers get more resistant to price rises."
Kernock Park Plants business development manager Mark Taylor said: "It's scare tactics. The peat producers always say there is a low harvest in September and October because that's the time people are buying for next year."
HTA business development director Tim Briercliffe said growers should ensure 2013 supplies as soon as possible. "Peat harvests go up and down every year. This will stimulate the market for alternatives. Growing media is an important cost in production but is only one of the costs and this will mean alternatives fill the gap.
"I don't predict a shortage but this may impact on cost. If there's a 15-20 per cent increase to growers, that's difficult to deal with on top of everything else. That would need to be passed on through the chain. The challenge for growers is prices are agreed now for next year and these costs come in later."
Pot sizes - Reductions forecast to cut costs
Garden Centre Association chairman Peter Burks has said he believes pot sizes will go down because of peat shortages.
"The industry is het up with pot sizes but the customers don't care," he added. "They just want a good plant, so we'll have just as good a plant in a smaller pot.
"I wouldn't be surprised if there were more smaller pot sizes next year because peat is more expensive. We might see more three-litre pots rather than five-litre."
HTA business development director Tim Briercliffe said he would be surprised should that happen but added that some DIYs are looking to cut pot sizes to reduce the price. "I don't think the price of peat will affect that."