Turning point in the substrate industry
Interview with Moritz Böcking
The German government adopts a peatland protection strategy, a peat reduction strategy and a federal-state target agreement. The coalition agreement of the red-green government in Lower Saxony states that the substrate industry should give up extraction areas ahead of time. In an interview with German horticultural magazine TASPO, Moritz Böcking, Managing Director of the Klasmann-Deilmann Group and board member of the European industry association Growing Media Europe AISBL, comments on current developments.
TASPO: Berlin and Hanover want to protect peatlands, establish sustainable forms of use for agriculture, and end peat extraction and use.
Moritz Böcking: Global climate protection remains a key challenge, and in Germany, peatland protection is one of them. The substrate industry has been in the spotlight for decades. It should be known that the complete and permanent cessation of peat extraction would lead to a maximum improvement of 0.2% in Germany’s climate footprint. Fortunately, there is movement in the discourse. For the first time, agriculture, which is responsible for the majority of emissions from peat soils, is being taken into account. The relations are finally being straightened out.
TASPO: Is the substrate industry now losing its most important resource?
Moritz Böcking: The most important raw material of the substrate industry is on the scratch list in this country. We are curious to see how constructively the federal and state governments will now proceed and how willing they are to engage in dialog. A simple strategy to phase out peat is not enough. We need a strategy for a secure substrate supply. The ambition must be much more comprehensive. It is about new crop-safe substrate mixtures, about safe access to alternative raw materials and about implementation in each individual nursery.
TASPO: So, unlike in the past, the substrate industry is entering a new era.
Moritz Böcking: The turning point in the substrate industry has long since begun. Many manufacturers have been looking at new raw materials for years. Klasmann-Deilmann alone used 800,000 m³ of alternative components worldwide in 2022. The entire industry in Germany is on the right track. The German Garden Industry Association (Industrieverband Garten, IVG) will soon publish new figures, and we expect an average 25% share of alternative raw materials in 2022. So, the progress is considerable.
TASPO: Is the end of all peat growing media in sight?
Moritz Böcking: No, the current development does not bring an end to peat based growing media. It is time for all those involved to acknowledge the reality with a sober eye: The substrate industry must understand that it can only continue with alternative constituents. Politicians must understand that there is no way forward without peat. For a reliable supply of crop-safe substrates to European horticulture, we need all proven raw materials – especially those available in Europe.
TASPO: From 2026, potting soils are to be produced entirely without peat …
Moritz Böcking: As a result, large quantities of alternative constituents are being diverted to the hobby sector and are no longer available for substrate applications in commercial horticulture. Progress in the professional sector is being slowed down. It is a myth of politics that renewable raw materials can be secured in ever greater quantities without significant obstacles. On the contrary. The competitive situation is intensifying, especially with the energy sector. We can only advise against a complete abandonment of peat. We advocate reduction targets with a sense of proportion and refer for the hobby sector to the voluntary commitment of substrate manufacturers in the IVG, which envisages a peat reduction of 70% in potting soils by 2030.
TASPO: Nevertheless, peat is also to be widely replaced by alternative raw materials in growing media for commercial horticulture by 2030.
Moritz Böcking: This can succeed, provided a common understanding of “widely” is achieved. There are crops where a substrate with fifty percent alternative components is already working very well today, such as various ornamental plants. In other segments, development is slower, including young plants for the food industry. We cannot definitively predict what progress our industry will make in the various segments, but even in 2030, thirty or forty percent peat substitutes may be “widely.”
TASPO: German politicians would like to lift the issue to the European level.
Moritz Böcking: A uniform regulation for the whole of Europe is a legitimate interest, provided that it serves climate protection in European commercial horticulture and prevents competitive disadvantages for countries with progressive peat phase-out quotas. However, there will be no complete exit from peat extraction and use across the EU by 2030. Last summer, the German Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food tried to convince its European counterparts in Brussels to phase out peat and faced noticeable headwind. We are confident that a Europe-wide regulation will be more balanced than the ambitions from Berlin.
TASPO: What could the solution look like?
Moritz Böcking: An agreement was recently reached in the Netherlands that keeps the reduced use of peat legitimate, provided that the raw materials bear the RPP seal. “Responsibly Produced Peat” is a European non-governmental organization in which recognized associations such as Wetlands International participate. It stands for the responsible use of peat extraction areas and the protection of pristine peatlands. RPP has established a certification system that imposes strict conditions on the selection, use and restoration of extraction areas. Klasmann-Deilmann has already certified 86% of its own areas according to RPP. This could also be the solution for peat used in Germany. Viable compromises are possible.
TASPO: What do you think should happen next?
Moritz Böcking: My wish is that more growers will be at the table for every discussion between politicians and the substrate industry. The federal government funds numerous research projects and the product development of substrate producers is in full swing. But in the end, each new substrate mixture has to be introduced individually at each nursery and the crop management adapted. The effort involved is high. A great deal is demanded not only of the substrate producers, but above all of the farms. Here, politics should listen more closely than in the past.