Dramatic rise in the demand for growing media
Strong growth until 2050
What are the future prospects for the substrate industry? Chris Blok from Wageningen University & Research, Greenhouse Horticulture hazards a forecast.
Chris Blok is researcher in “Rooting Media and Plant Nutrition” at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. He has recently been investigating developments in the international sales market for growing media, a study made possible by the International Peatland Society (IPS). He was also prepared to tell Klasmann-Deilmann his forecast for the period up to 2050. We took this opportunity of putting a few questions to the expert and to Moritz Böcking, Managing Director of Klasmann-Deilmann.
Question: Mr Blok, how will the demand for growing media develop?
Chris Blok: Worldwide demand will rise dramatically over the next few decades and increase more than fourfold by the year 2050. An even greater upsurge in relative demand is conceivable for individual growing media, but this will be curbed by the limits on resources available to the growing media industry.
Question: Where does this strong growth come from?
Chris Blok: The first factor I would like to mention is the growth in the world population. We assume that there will be around ten billion people in the year 2050, compared with the present figure of seven billion. All these people have to be fed. Commercial horticulture will therefore have an increasingly important role to play, and this also includes the producers of growing media.
At the same time, global prosperity will increase. Although by no means everyone will be able to achieve a Western European standard of living, there will nevertheless be a far greater number of people who live in relative prosperity. This will drive the demand for a healthy diet that includes fruit and vegetables. There will also be growing demand for ornamental plants, not only to make our living environment more attractive, but also to make our cities cleaner. Commercial horticulture and the growing media industry will obviously be involved in these developments.
Question: Where will this increasing demand take place?
Chris Blok: We will see a sharp upswing all over the world, with demand for growing media more than doubling, even in highly developed regions such as Europe. By far the highest percentage increase will be in Asia and in Africa, with Asia even overtaking Europe as the largest sales market, whereas in absolute figures, Africa will continue to lag far behind.
Question: What role will peat play in this scenario?
Chris Blok: Demand for peat as a raw material for the production of growing media can more than double. The potential could actually be far higher, but the availability of peat will reach its limits within the foreseeable future: there is no adequate infrastructure to exploit most of the enormous resources, or these resources are subject to strict environmental controls.
Question: How will the trend for alternative raw materials develop during that same period?
Chris Blok: The importance of alternative raw materials will increase drastically in view of the rising demand for growing media. I expect to see increases of more than seven hundred per cent for coco products, wood fibres and bark. But once again, the availability of these resources will determine the limit for what could theoretically be even greater growth.
Question: Is there any room for innovations in this scenario?
Chris Blok: Innovations are a firm component of this forecast. Those raw materials for the production of growing media which are proving successful right now will by no means be sufficient to cover demand in 2050. Innovative raw materials, substrates and growing systems will have to make up for an annual deficit of more than forty million cubic metres of raw materials or growing media. That is an incredibly high quantity. The substrate industry is faced with a truly gigantic challenge in that respect – but at the same time, this situation will also open up real opportunities.
Question: What conclusions have you drawn personally from your study?
Chris Blok: In view of the limited raw materials, commercial horticulture should make more effort to develop growing systems that can cope with far less growing media or even none at all. “Hydroponics” – the cultivation of plants with roots in water with dissolved nutrients – is already very efficient as far as space, water and nutrient requirements are concerned. I am also closely following projects such as sphagnum farming that focus on harvesting peat mosses rather than peat production. And, of course, there is also enormous potential when it comes to recycling growing media.
Question: Mr Böcking, such future scenarios are naturally of immense importance to Klasmann-Deilmann. Are you surprised at this outlook?
Moritz Böcking: This outlook is indeed highly positive and not just for Klasmann-Deilmann. Any industry is happy to hear a forecast that predicts strong growth. We are ultimately not surprised at these good prospects, as we ourselves are recording continuous growth. What we do find surprising, however, is the scope of the forecast market development, which expects demand to multiply many times over. That at least does not tally with our experience in the international commercial horticulture business so far.
Question: In Chris Blok’s study, the use of peat plays a central role for future development.
Moritz Böcking: Chris Blok stresses that his study refers to the raw materials that are actually available and establishes that these resources will definitely not be capable of satisfying demand on their own. Klasmann-Deilmann has always taken the political and social viewpoints into account and these actors will certainly not accept an increase in the use of peat to the extent predicted in the study. When these factors are included, the gap between supply and demand becomes even more dramatic.
Question: How will Klasmann-Deilmann respond to this situation?
Moritz Böcking: Klasmann-Deilmann will dedicate great effort to continuing the successful course we have already taken. We will expand our production capacities for alternative raw materials, look for additional opportunities for using new raw materials in our growing media and will promote the development of propagation systems which use reduced quantities of substrate or no substrates at all – exactly as forecast in the study. I should therefore like to say a sincere thank you to Chris Blok for his inspiring remarks, which are not only highly encouraging, but which also pose central questions to which we will find answers.
Chris Blok: I should like to thank Klasmann-Deilmann for this frank dialogue and also for the resulting questions that offer numerous starting points for new research projects.
Thank you Mr Böcking. Thank you Mr Blok, we wish you every success for the future and hope that your study receives the attention it deserves.
No further use of this article allowed unless jointly agreed with Chris Blok and Klasmann-Deilmann.