Kevin Mahon at Klasmann-Deilmann in Rathowen.

For peat’s sake

4000 tonnes of peat brought to factory in Rathowen that has its own bog

The 4000 tonnes of horticultural peat imported into Ireland recently was delivered to a factory in Rathowen in North Westmeath and is being stockpiled on the edge of a bog that the firm harvested peat from for 40 years until a change in legislation in 2019.

On Saturday September 18 a convoy of 200 trucks brought the 4000 tonnes of horticultural peat from Drogheda Port to the Klasmann-Deilmann Ireland substrate factory in Rathowen.

The peat was harvested 3000km away in Latvia. Klasmann-Deilmann was forced to import peat as it has exhausted its contingency stock in the two years since it and other commercial producers were forced to stop harvesting following a High Court ruling. The ruling resulted in the introduction of an onerous four-stage licensing and planning process that will take up to six years – most other EU countries have a significantly faster single-stage system.

This is the first time an Irish based firm has had to import horticultural peat from abroad. Growing Media Ireland (GMI), the industry body that represents large commercial peat producers such as Klasmann-Deilmann, says that many more shipments are scheduled from the Baltic states and other EU countries in the coming weeks and months, shipments that, while costly compared to locally produced peat, are necessary to meet the needs of the Irish horticultural sector.

GMI chairman John Neenan predicted this week that the increased costs of importing peat will have a knock-on effect on household bills as well making growing plants unfeasible for many smaller horticulture firms.

“This has resulted in hugely increased costs, which will have a real impact on the competitiveness of Ireland’s fruit and vegetable sector, and ultimately will lead to higher food prices for families. Horticultural peat is a universal ingredient for almost all plant species in almost all production systems in Ireland,” he said.

Kevin Mahon of Klasmann-Deilmann revealed that the cost of harvesting peat in the firm’s bog on the Westmeath Longford border is about a quarter of what it costs to import the same product from Latvia.

He says that unless the licensing system is streamlined and commercial horticultural peat harvesting is allowed to resume soon the economic and environmental consequences for Ireland will be huge.

“It just seems so wrong. We all know that bogs are carbon sinks. There are no arguments about that. In fact, Klasmann-Deilmann were rewetting bogs in Germany long before Bord na Mona were doing it here. It is completely our intention to rewet our bogs here. Once we are finished production. At the moment the [drained] bogs are emitting carbon, whether you are harvesting on them on not.

“If they could process our licence quickly and add in the conditions that you have to re-wet the bogs – we are fine with that. We have a financial provision for that.”

Last Tuesday Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan told the Committee on Agriculture that a working group he commissioned has advised that “peat for the professional horticulture sector should be available till a target date of 2030 and a maximum target date of 2035, with the amount of peat being used by the sector being phased out over that time”.

Mr Mahon says that from economic and environmental perspectives, this peat should be harvested in Ireland.

“Peat is being harvested in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Canada, and Russia. So this is not an EU problem; it is a uniquely Irish problem, and if there was a willingness to allow a ‘Just Transition’ away from the use of peat in horticulture, the system could be fixed.

“Our bog is emitting carbon. The bog in Latvia is emitting carbon. In addition to emitting the carbon for bringing it here. The bog in Latvia is about 100km from the port in Riga. Two hundred trucks made that 200km round trip, that’s 40,000km of diesel. Then it takes 3000km worth of heavy fuel oil to get it to Drogheda. Again its 100km from here to Drogheda and the 200 trucks went back empty.

“We’re bringing coals to Newcastle; it’s not an environmentally or economically sustainable business model,” he said.