Growing media: It’s time to shout about it from the treetops

25 January 2022
  • Whastsapp

As the government launches fresh proposals on the phasing out of peat, growers are urged to respond to the government consultation, writes Rachel Anderson

Like many of you, I love my car. It’s a Volkswagen Tiguan and it’s never let me down. Apparently, the name “Tiguan” is a mix of two animal names – tiger and Leguan (which is iguana in German). It’s wild-sounding name is perhaps fitting given how stealthily my car has been prowling around the Capital (where the jungle really is massive).

And so, it’s with a heavy heart that I’m soon going to have to say goodbye to this trusted big cat-reptile combo. My Tiguan runs on diesel, which means I now get charged £12.50 if I drive deeper into the urban jungle – aka London’s new Ultra Low Emission Zone. This new measure is a reminder that there are, perhaps, more environmentally friendly ways of getting around town (and country).

Having learned that Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and the Welsh government have launched their long-awaited consultation on the phasing out of peat, I realised that peat is to many growers and gardeners what the diesel-fuelled Tiguan is to me. Both products are reliable and do a great job – but, given the need to be as sustainable as possible to help mitigate climate change, the government is pressing us to explore some alternatives.

You may recall that back in 2011, the government set voluntary targets for the removal of peat from the garden and hobby market by 2020 – and the commercial horticulture sector by 2030. Whilst figures show that the volume of peat sold in growing media between 2011 and 2019 has decreased by 25% (2.06 million m3 in 2019 compared with 2.76 million m3 in 2011), the government has warned that further measures would be considered to ensure that peat is permanently evicted from the proverbial jungle.

In the consultation, entitled Ending the retail sale of peat in horticulture in England and Wales, Defra and the Welsh government propose to end the use of peat in 2024 for retail, and for 2028 for commercial growers.

It notes that “peatlands are the UK’s largest stores of carbon. They also provide vital ecosystem services including supplying UK drinking water, decreasing flood risk, and providing food and shelter for rare wildlife.

And continues: “The extraction of peat releases the carbon stored inside as carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change.”

 

As we know, many growers are already using peat-reduced or peat-free growing media mixes in their nurseries. And those who are still using peat are not simply monkeying around. There are genuine reasons why peat is being used. For example, some plant species or seedlings simply may not thrive in the peat-free mixes that are available to growers. The varying availability of peat-free alternatives, such as coir, is also a big hurdle for the sector, as is how well growers’ production machinery is adapted to peat-free mixes.

 

The horticulture industry’s growing media taskforce, which is made up of the kings of the swing – aka the Garden Centre Association (GCA), National Farmers Union (NFU), Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), Growing Media Association (GMA) and Responsible Sourcing Scheme (RSS) – therefore responded to the launch of the consultation by highlighting the need for collaboration between the government and industry. This, it says, is essential to solving the issue of peat use. It also called on Government support to unlock policy barriers for finding the required volume and sufficient quality of alternative materials.

 

The spokesman for the taskforce, James Barnes, said: “An industry-government partnership would enable UK horticulture to achieve the international competitive-edge and certainty it requires to green our economy. We continue to do everything we can to remove peat, but it needs government to step up to support this change.”

 

So, what can individual growers do to help? Well, whilst the consultation is largely focussed on the removal of peat from the retail sector, it is also seeking to understand the complications of removing the use of peat from commercial horticulture. And so, it is calling for evidence from growers and needs their input. And that’s why I’m shouting at all growers from the metaphorical treetops to urge them to please respond to this consultation – the deadline for which is March 18, 2022.

 

The consultation can be completed online via: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/soils-and- peatlands/endingtheretailsaleofpeatinhorticulture