Bord na Móna green strategy looks bleak in the eyes of the Irish Horticultural Industry

Image Credit: Sínead Mohan

Bord na Móna’s shift from brown to green is transforming the company from the traditional peat business we know it as, to a climate solutions company in light of a high court judgement ruling and the need for change as a company that was facing debt and despair. 

Chief executive of Bord na Móna Tom Donnellan has a plan in place that looks towards climate change. Creating a company based on innovation, renewable power generations and the restoration of resources previously disrupted by Bord na Móna. 

The company's shift is unquestionably a move in the right direction to making the country a greener, more climate conscious nation. In the past, the peat harvested from the 80,000 hectares of bog had been used to fuel power stations and create peat briquettes for burning in our homes. Bord na Móna offers greener solutions to these industries, looking towards biogas, wind farms, sources of renewable power in turn for the peat fuelled power stations, and an alternative ‘green briquette’ made from renewable biomass replacing the familiar peat briquettes.

However, the horticultural sector has been completely left in the dark. Bord na Móna acted as the sole provider of peat to the industry, largely acting as the most important raw material for growing. The new business transformation has accounted for other sectors replacement options yet inconceivably leaving the horticultural sector with no other options. 

Donnellan says “that while peat is a key input for the horticulture sector, renewable forms of plant compost are coming on stream that will eventually displace the traditional peat once stocks run out”. Unfortunately it is already too late with resources running out and Bord na Móna still without a feasible back up, the sectors that make up the Irish horticultural industry are falling short. 

The production of mushrooms, lettuce and ornamental sectors is looking to become an uneconomic sector in Ireland. The unavailability of peat for mushroom casing will lead to the closure of the mushroom industry with the only other option coming from the importing of casing material from other EU countries at a higher environmental and financial cost. 

The Irish tillage sector depends on mushroom compost as an outlet for 130,000 tonnes of wheaten straw annually where a decline of 20% is already being seen in this sector, another loss within their market would have detrimental effects. Another player is the poultry industry where it depends on the mushroom sector to unload 50,000 tonnes of chicken litter per year. 

When we look abroad to Europe and the UK alternative growing cultures have been in the works for years to replace traditional peat. Peat free substitutes containing mixtures of bark, wood fibres, grit, sand and coconut fibres which seem to be the next best thing as a substitute for peat. 

However Bord na Móna do not have such a plan in place for wide scale peat substitutes. The company currently offers a peat free compost alternative for the household plant enthusiast, with the cost being too high for intensive growers across the country, it isn’t an option. Another fear is that once a feasible approach to large scale peat free options are on the cards, will there be enough raw materials available without the high environmental cost of importing.

Growing media Ireland(GMI) has recognised that there are not sufficient substitutes for peat offered presently in Ireland that are available, affordable, sustainable and that meet the quality requirements of growing media. But with no end in sight for peat production abroad the Irish horticultural sector have to look towards importing to fulfil their needs.

According to the GMI, “unless the current legislation is amended to allow all previously exempted horticultural peat harvesting to resume, the entire industry faces an almost immediate shutdown”. Of the 80,000 hectares of land previously harvested under Bord na Móna, the area of peatlands used for the horticultural industry fell at approximately 1,700 hectares, a mere 0.4% of the total Irish peatlands that were under production. 

While both Bord na Móna and government legislation are looking to improve the environmental strains of peat harvesting, pushing the horticultural sector to import will only belittle their hopes of a greener Ireland. All the while pushing the sector to potential industry closure and job loss.