Dirk Röse

A need to secu­re sup­plies of gro­wing media

Round-table con­fe­rence with Klasmann-Deilmann and BMEL

More alter­na­ti­ve raw mate­ri­als, less peat. Klasmann-Deilmann had invi­ted Germany’s Federal Minis­try of Food and Agri­cul­tu­re (BMEL) to a round-table con­fe­rence aimed at dis­cus­sing oppor­tu­nities and limits asso­cia­ted with long-term deve­lo­p­ments. The back­ground: the ministry’s peat reduc­tion stra­te­gy and rela­ted vol­un­ta­ry com­mit­ments on the part of the country’s sub­stra­te pro­du­cers. As befo­re, the two sides’ objec­ti­ves dif­fer when it comes to lowe­ring the pro­por­ti­on of peat in gro­wing media.

n ‘Zen­tral­ver­band Gar­ten­bau’ (ZVG) and the hor­ti­cul­tu­ral-indus­try orga­ni­sa­ti­on ‘Indus­trie­ver­band Gar­ten’ (IVG), pro­du­cers’ orga­ni­sa­ti­on Gro­wing Media Euro­pe (GME), the Thü­nen Insti­tu­te (a land use think-tank) and poli­cy-makers; during the online con­fe­rence, they shared their views and dis­cus­sed the sta­te of play. The hosts were Moritz Böcking (Mana­ging Direc­tor Klasmann-Deilmann Group) and Dr Tho­mas Schmidt, a high-ran­king minis­te­ri­al coun­sellor, head of the depart­ment for hor­ti­cul­tu­re and land­s­ca­ping at the BMEL.

Böcking remin­ded the mee­ting that, with regard to both raw mate­ri­als and pro­ducts, the sub­stra­te indus­try ope­ra­tes on a long-term cycli­cal basis and invol­ves a clo­sed “value cir­cle” that is lar­ge­ly inde­pen­dent of imports from out­side Euro­pe. This, he said, means that the sec­tor is a high­ly depen­da­ble part­ner in all hor­ti­cul­tu­ral seg­ments, and makes it more resistant to cri­ses such as the coro­na­vi­rus pan­de­mic. “Throughout the world, our gro­wing media form a sound basis for fee­ding popu­la­ti­ons healt­hi­ly. Our indus­try is a key fac­tor in the suc­cess of the farm-to-fork stra­te­gy in Euro­pe,” Böcking remarked.

Dr Schmidt con­fir­med that the sub­stra­te sec­tor is part of Europe’s “cri­ti­cal infra­st­ruc­tu­re”. At the same time, he added, it is – like any branch of indus­try – affec­ted by the endea­vours of the Euro­pean Uni­on and the Federal Repu­blic of Ger­ma­ny to cut emis­si­ons. In the sub­stra­te indus­try, it is peat pro­duc­tion and use that are par­ti­cu­lar­ly impac­ted by the­se objec­ti­ves. In imple­men­ting the peat reduc­tion stra­te­gy, the BMEL is rely­ing on the sector’s wil­ling­ness to com­mit vol­un­ta­ri­ly, on trans­pa­ren­cy of pro­cess and on a “seam­less transition”.

Dif­fe­rent per­spec­ti­ves on oppor­tu­nities and risks

The focus of the spe­cia­list pre­sen­ta­ti­ons was on deve­lo­p­ments in natu­re con­ser­va­ti­on and cli­ma­te chan­ge miti­ga­ti­on, incre­a­sing usa­ge of alter­na­ti­ve con­sti­tu­ents, and accep­t­ance of redu­ced-peat sub­stra­te blends wit­hin the com­mer­cial-hor­ti­cul­tu­re sec­tor. Emis­si­ons from peat pro­duc­tion and usa­ge were the sub­ject of deba­te, with dif­fe­rent sources and approa­ches to cal­cu­la­ti­on resul­ting in wide­ly dif­fe­rent out­co­mes. Opi­ni­ons also diver­ged as to whe­ther wood fibres, green com­post and other alter­na­ti­ve con­sti­tu­ents will be avail­ab­le in suf­fi­ci­ent quan­ti­ties, and in the necessa­ry qua­li­ty, over the long term.

Ceci­lia Luet­ge­bru­ne, Secreta­ry Gene­ral of Brussels-based GME, advo­ca­ted that peat-based gro­wing media should not be view­ed sole­ly in terms of their cli­ma­te impact. “The poli­ti­cal deba­te seems to igno­re the fact that use of gro­wing media – whe­ther peat based or not – actively hel­ps to com­bat cli­ma­te chan­ge by lowe­ring inputs of resour­ces such as water, fer­ti­li­ser and che­mi­cal her­bici­des in hor­ti­cul­tu­re, enab­les affore­sta­ti­on on a lar­ge sca­le, and makes our towns, cities and living spaces gree­ner.” She stres­sed that gro­wing media play a key role in the Euro­pe-wide trans­for­ma­ti­on that makes com­mer­cial hor­ti­cul­tu­re beco­me even more sustainable.

Dr Hans Joa­chim Brink­jans, Depu­ty Secreta­ry Gene­ral of the ZVG, war­ned that uni­la­te­ral natio­nal initia­ti­ves regar­ding peat use could distort com­pe­ti­ti­on. “Com­mer­cial hor­ti­cul­tu­re in Ger­ma­ny is sub­ject to fier­ce com­pe­ti­ti­on at both the Euro­pean and a wider inter­na­tio­nal level. Vege­ta­bles, fruit, mushrooms, orna­men­tal and tree nur­s­e­ry crops are among the most pri­ce-sen­si­ti­ve pro­ducts that are sub­ject to the impe­ra­ti­ve of tra­de. Incre­a­sed pro­duc­tion cos­ts cau­sed by expen­si­ve, redu­ced-peat substrates are detri­men­tal to gro­wers. It’s important to lower the pro­por­ti­on of peat gra­du­al­ly and – as far as pos­si­ble – taking mar­ket con­di­ti­ons into account.”

By the event’s clo­se, some pro­vi­sio­nal con­clu­si­ons had been drawn. “Peat reduc­tion is defi­ni­te­ly a chal­len­ge for all tho­se invol­ved,” Dr Tho­mas Schmidt said. “The sub­stra­te indus­try must start work today on crea­ting the raw-mate­ri­als base it will need for the pro­ducts it will sell in 10 years’ time. We shouldn’t miss this oppor­tu­ni­ty to help miti­ga­te cli­ma­te chan­ge.” By way of respon­se, Moritz Böcking remar­ked: “Both the gro­wing-media sec­tor and poli­cy-makers have an equal obli­ga­ti­on here. Ins­tead of a peat reduc­tion stra­te­gy, what we requi­re is a bin­ding raft of mea­su­res to ensu­re that the sub­stra­te indus­try can access alter­na­ti­ve raw mate­ri­als and that hor­ti­cul­tu­ral busi­nes­ses are sup­plied with reli­able pro­ducts. In this con­nec­tion, the use of domestic and impor­ted peat must remain at the level necessa­ry to ensu­re that gro­wing media do their job effectively.”

Des­pi­te the dif­fe­ring views expres­sed, the par­ti­ci­pants agreed that con­cer­ted effort is nee­ded to ensu­re long-term sup­plies of gro­wing media. A fol­low-up event is to be held next year so that work on this important issue can continue.

Federal minis­try urges that peat use be cut substantially

The Ger­man federal government’s cli­ma­te tar­gets for 2030 for­med the back­ground to the con­fe­rence. Plans to achie­ve them inclu­de reduc­tion of domestic peat extrac­tion and of peat usa­ge in gro­wing media. In the light of this, Klasmann-Deilmann and the sub­stra­te pro­du­cers who belong to the IVG indus­try asso­cia­ti­on adop­ted a vol­un­ta­ry com­mit­ment in 2020. It envi­sa­ges reduc­tion tar­gets for peat use: by 2025, 50% in the case of pot­ting soils for the con­su­mer seg­ment, and 20% in the case of gro­wing media for com­mer­cial hor­ti­cul­tu­re. From 2030, the aim is to use alter­na­ti­ve con­sti­tu­ents to sub­sti­tu­te peat by 70% in the con­su­mer mar­ket and 30% in the pro­fes­sio­nal sec­tor. Julia Klöck­ner, Germany’s Federal Minis­ter for Food and Agri­cul­tu­re, ack­now­led­ged that the sub­stra­te indus­try was hea­ding in the right direc­tion with its efforts, but cal­led for hig­her reduc­tion tar­gets. The manage­ment of various DIY retail chains have been reques­ted in wri­ting to spe­ci­fi­cal­ly assist in the achie­ve­ment of reduc­tion tar­gets. The chief rea­son for this initi­al­ly cited by the BMEL was that peat pro­duc­tion and use accoun­ted for 2% of annu­al CO2 emis­si­ons in Ger­ma­ny. This figu­re was then adjus­ted down­wards to 0.2% in respon­se to the pro­tests of the sub­stra­te industry.