The costs and economic impact of phasing out peat use in the hardy nursery stock sector

Start date:
February 2011
April 2011

Research background and aims
This research was commissioned to strengthen Defra’s evidence base on the horticultural use of peat. It aims to fill an identified gap in that evidence in respect of what is known about the costs and benefits of reducing and phasing out peat use in the hardy nursery stock sector. At the time the report was written, Defra was undertaking consultation on proposals to phase out the use of peat in the professional horticulture sector in England by 2030.

Qualitative, structured telephone interviews were conducted with a diverse sample of 25 different businesses in the hardy nursery stock sector. The key aims of the interviews were to find out about businesses’ use of growing media; their anticipated future use of peat; and their attitudes and cost estimates for phasing out peat by 2020 and 2030.

Of the businesses we interviewed, two were entirely peat free and several had peat-free ranges. Of those businesses that were not entirely peat-free, their overall use of peat across all their growing media ranged from about 32% to about 95%. Within the peat-reduced mixes used, the most popular diluent was bark.

Research findings
The following key findings were made:

  • Many of the businesses had already reduced peat use to some extent. Most had reported having been able to do this with some transitional costs, but without any significant capital or ongoing costs. Some had also reported performance benefits as a result of peat reductions.
  • Furthermore, some felt that, depending upon the availability and consistency of the supply of peat alternatives, there could be scope for further reduction. For those who felt further reductions were possible, these were generally expected to bring some transitional implications for input costs, but were only rarely expected to have any capital or ongoing cost impacts.
  • However, some businesses did not believe that their plants, or certain of the varieties they grew, could be grown in peat-free or significantly peat-reduced growing media at all. Others felt that they had already reduced peat as far as was commercially viable at the time of interview.
  • The main concerns identified in phasing out peat any further were: uncertainty around future prices and input costs; and uncertainty over the security and consistency of growing media supply.
  • These in turn created knock-on concerns over the impact on plant quality and failure rates which many felt could present a considerable commercial risk to them. A major component of that risk was reported to be the need to compete with growers from other countries who could be using peat, with its perceived cost and performance advantages.
  • As a result, there was uncertainty and concern over the commercial consequences of an England-only peat phase out.

Download the full report using the link on the right.

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