A common sense solution is needed to resolve ongoing issues around the harvesting of peat which is causing difficulties for horticulture growers, according to Minister of State Martin Heydon.

The Irish horticultural industry makes a significant contribution to the Irish economy with a farm gate value of almost €440m and employs an estimated 6,600 people. It is estimated that approximately 50% of the sectors total output is dependent on peat as a growing medium.

Minister Heydon said: “I met with local growers recently in Kildare who expressed huge concerns about the future of the sector if it is forced to rely on imported peat at a higher economic and environmental cost. I spoke to many of these growers again at a protest outside the Dáil this week.

“Their message was clear – we must support indigenous Irish businesses who rely on peat to grow mushrooms, fruits and vegetables, and nursery stock. This is a complex issue which involves planning and licensing and arose on the back of a legal challenge in the courts, but we cannot shy away from finding a solution.” Minister Heydon said.

The peat used in the commercial horticulture sector, approximately 250,000m3, is harvested from an area accounting for 0.4% of total peatlands.

“My colleague Minister Peter Burke stated in the Seanad on Wednesday that he has no objection supporting the exemption of peat extraction from the planning process, but that clear policy was needed from the Department of Climate, Environment and Communication along with an alternative licensing regime.

“Minister Malcolm Noonan will shortly present a report from a working group on peat use in Ireland and I look forward to the recommendations from that on how to resolve the current crisis in the sector.

“Within my own Department, a number of research projects have been funded to explore alternatives to peat and to reduce the industry’s requirement for peat. The area of research and innovation lies within my remit and I am committed to providing further resources as necessary to other projects.

“However, a viable and sustainable alternative to peat remains some years away and in the interim we must find a way to meet the needs of the domestic horticulture sector without relying on imports,” Minister Heydon said.