Irish peat harvesting should be permitted to recommence supplying the needs of the horticulture sector, a Government-sponsored study has found.

A working group report, which the Irish Farmers Journal has seen, has recommended the continued use of Irish peat by horticulture businesses while the sector switches to alternative biomass sources over the coming decade.

“Irish peat should be available over the short term in sufficient quantities from existing ‘ecologically destroyed’ bogs that were prepared for harvesting for the last few years and are lying fallow,” the report stated.

The study maintained that facilitating access to Irish peat was “absolutely critical” for the professional horticulture sector for the 2022 season.

The report noted that the amount of the peat used in horticulture is “absolutely miniscule” when compared to the quantities harvested for energy.

While just 846,000m3 of peat are used in horticulture, the figure for energy and export is 19.8m m3.

On the controversial matter of importing peat, the report calls for a halt to the practice, describing imports as not making “environmental, economic or ethical sense”.

While six shiploads have been imported so far this year, the report argued that future imports should only take place “to make up a shortfall”.

The report, titled a Review of the use of Peat Moss in Horticulture was commissioned by the Minister of State, Malcolm Noonan.

It was compiled by a working group which comprised officials from relevant Government departments and State bodies, as well as representatives of environmental groups and the horticulture sector. The working group was chaired by Dr Munoo Prasad.

While the working group agreed that the use of peat in horticulture “should be phased out by 2030 or at the very latest by 2035”, the report stated that Irish peat should be used while alternate biomass sources were being identified.

However, the report stressed that existing working bogs of less than 30ha should be prioritised for peat extraction.

“Irish ecologically damaged horticultural bogs that have been used for years with few ditches yet blocked for rehabilitation could be used for peat extraction,” the study suggested.

The report pointed out that primary legislation will be required to change the “dual consent system” in order to facilitate peat producers who want to resume harvesting.

“This legislation should be drafted, approved by the Government and presented to the Houses of the Oireachtas as a priority,” the report stated.

Responding to a recent Dáil question from Sinn Féin’s Matt Carty, Minister Noonan said he received the report on October 20 and that its findings were being “considered carefully”.

The Irish Farmers Journalunderstands that the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture has invited Minister Noonan to appear before it to discuss the report’s findings.