Viability of public sector peat use target questioned

Growers report only five-to-20 per cent of councils stipulate peat-free in their bedding contracts.

Compost: Government target stipulates peat-free by 2015 and 2020 - image: HW
Compost: Government target stipulates peat-free by 2015 and 2020 - image: HW

A looming peat-free deadline for the public sector is in danger of being missed by many councils, Horticulture Week has found.

After 2015, the Government has ruled that the use of peat should be phased out. But growers have said only five-to-20 per cent of councils stipulate peat-free in bedding contracts.

Bedding grower RC Smith said only five per cent of the local authorities for which he tenders stipulate peat-free. Overall his mixes are 10-20 per cent peat-reduced.

"We do a little bit of peat-free but it's not anywhere near as good," said Smith. He suggested a reduction to 50 per cent peat-reduced in five years to trial substitutes such as cow manure and brewers' grains because "green waste won't work".

Baginton Nurseries managing director Will Lamb said only 20 per cent of local authorities for which he tenders stipulate peat-free. "I don't think the 2015 deadline will be achieved but if local authorities turn around and all tender for peat-free we can cope because we grow with it already," he added.

John Tugman, managing director at supplier Sinclair Professional, said: "I can't see a switch to peat-free next year from local authorities."

He said there has been a slow increase in peat-free use among growers for councils and councils themselves, comparing the shift to the organic market, which "grew gradually" on the back of a "lot of publicity".

Sinclair is in a "customer-focused dual camp" providing peat and Super Fyba products, so Tugman said the company can meet any demand as it comes.

But HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin insisted 2015 and 2020 deadlines are "still feasible". Audit schemes and measuring sustainability are more important than peat "although the Government target still stipulates peat-free", he said.

"Garden centres will stock what customers want and customers will buy what's most beneficial for them," he added. "There might be a sudden leap with mixing or producing we haven't thought of" to reach the targets and "there's money there to support them".

NFU horticulture adviser Dr Chris Hartfield said: "The progress of this work will come under the spotlight in 2015 when Government reviews its policy on peat use.

"The success of this work and any Government policy after 2015 will continue to depend on the appropriate use of the available evidence. The NFU will continue to work hard on behalf of growers to make sure this evidence drives policy."

Criteria for meeting Government targets on reducing peat use

Dr Alan Knight, chairman, Growing Media Task Force

"First we need to fix with Defra what the target is - our report talked about 'sustainable growing media' while Defra still talks 'peat free'. The debate we still need to have is whether there is such a thing as sustainable peat. Some in Europe think there is and some think peat harvesting from areas that were not bogs in the UK, like Somerset, is okay.

"What we do not have yet are standards on peat harvesting set by consensus between the industry and pressure groups. The EU peat-harvesting standard-setting process did not follow the protocols for sustainability standards and because of that they will struggle to be accepted.

"My predictions are that we will never reach true consensus on sustainable peat harvesting. Positions are too entrenched, which means that by default truly sustainable growing media will end up being peat-free. Will the industry meet the 2020 targets? This remains very possible. It could be that a new technology will appear that will change the game or the incremental changes we currently see happening will get us to the target.

"The breakthrough for both is agreeing the technical and sustainability standards for all the growing-media choices. While this should not stop research and development, some producers are waiting for that layer of clarity. The most recent Government report omitted the deadlines, but Defra confirmed that was an 'oversight'."

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