Controls on the use of peat by commercial growers look likely to begin up to four years earlier than expected, at the end of 2026. The industry had been expecting controls to be phased in from 2028 with a complete ban from 2030.
The Commercial Greenhouse Grower understands that some trade bodies were ‘verbally briefed’ by Defra officials in late March about a decision to introduce draft legislation aimed at ending peat use, with some limited exemptions, for professional growers at the end of December 2026.
The government’s position was later confirmed by Defra parliamentary under-secretary Trudy Harrison in answer to a parliamentary question by Labour MP Fleur Anderson: “We propose to ban the retail sale of peat from 2024 when parliamentary time allows. At the same time, we will legislate for exemptions for professional growers to allow time for technical barriers to be overcome and peat-free alternatives to be further developed. We are minded to permit such exemptions until 2030, with no restriction on professional use until after 2026.”
HTA chairman James Barnes said: “Although challenging, the 2030 date was accepted as creating the time to have a workable transition away from peat. The news that it will come into effect four years earlier, even with phased exemptions, has caused widespread concern and alarm for growers.
“There are big challenges in ensuring there is the quantity and quality of sustainable peat-free alternatives for growers to access by then. More than halving the number of trial seasons available to achieve a successful transition will be a blow to many businesses.
“Until legislation is on the statute books and guidance ready, we are without 100% certainty and clarity on the detail of how the ban, phased approach, technical exemptions and handling imports will work in practice. This is totally unacceptable.”
He pointed out there are already nursery stock crops in production in peat-based media that are programmed for sale after the end of 2026.
NFU horticulture board chairman Martin Emmett said securing the appropriate exemptions during the phase-in period would now be key. “It is vital that all appropriate exemptions are available to growers and do not restrict production where alternatives to peat are not available or commercially viable,” he said. “It is also critical that any measures required of UK growers are legislated for imports as well.”
So far the only potential exemptions mentioned by Defra – in a blog about how its ‘announcement’ was being reported – relate to ‘production of young plants in plugs with a maximum volume of 150ml’ and ‘the production of edible mushrooms with a peat casing layer of 2cm’.
It adds: “We feel that a phased approach for the professional sector with some exemptions from 2026 and a full ban from 2030, is achievable given the number of peat alternatives available and the period of time permitted for the sector to adjust.
“A phased approach will enable professional horticulture businesses to conduct further commercial-scale trials to identify suitable peat-free growing media, in particular for challenging plants, allow time for adaptation and replacement of commercial growing systems and to allow plants already started in a peat containing growing media to work their way through the supply chain. As our understanding of the technical difficulties improves then this may also include other plant types or production methods where peat cannot be readily replaced.”
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