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Irish Company Turns to Willow As Peat Alternative After Extraction Ban

29 Jan 2023

Irish manufacturing company Klassmann-Deilmann has started looking into willow as a substitute for peat in compost materials.

Due to a High Court ruling in 2019, large-scale peat extraction has become illegal in Ireland, making it difficult for manufacturers to find a suitable alternative.

Klassmann-Deilmann, a major manufacturer of substrate and compost for Irish growers, has received peat imports from Latvia in the past three years to fulfill clients’ demands. However, these shipments have become more expensive due to political tensions overseas, leaving compost manufacturers are scrambling to find alternatives.

While willow is readily available in the area, it has typically been used as fuel rather than compost. A study published in Scientific Reports explored using mixes of willow material as an alternative to peat.

This research concluded that 25-50 percent of peat mass could be switched with willow composts with the outcome heavily dependent on the mixture used.

Klassmann-Deilmann representative Kevin Mahon reinforced the study’s claims. The company has tried shredding and composting willow to see if it would be a sufficient alternative to peat.

Though early signs appear hopeful, the willow compost still needs to be diluted with the main compost.

“It’s about competitiveness really and having the availability of the raw materials locally. There’s not enough bark or wood and you have to use a blend of these products to make a quality substrate for these professional growers,” Mahon said.

Irish High Court ruling

In 2019, the Irish High Court ruled that unregulated local peat extraction was inconsistent with existing environmental laws. The ruling was a response to a challenge from the Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) who highlighted the damaging effects of large-scale industrial peat extraction.

The FIE pointed out that large-scale industrial peat extraction caused environmental damages and losses in Ireland’s carbon sink. 20 percent of Ireland is covered in peatland, which absorbs carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere.

These peatlands contain roughly 20-30 percent of soil carbon, storing more carbon than massive rainforests.

As a result of the decreased peat production, local growers and compost manufacturers strove to find alternatives in the wake of the ruling.

Seeking long-term solutions

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has partnered with environmental departments to research horticultural alternatives to peat. Their goal is to address both the short-term shortage of peat and the long-term need for a sustainable alternative.

“We are endeavouring to address the short-term issue of supply, the medium-term one of future access to peat and also the longer-term issue of replacement with alternatives,” DAFM minister Charlie McConalogue said.

Peat imports from other countries became the short-term solution for reduced production. The department ministers also recommended regulated pathways for peat extraction on a smaller scale to satisfy environmental concerns and maintain business operations.

However, their long-term goal has been to discover alternatives to peat to preserve the peatlands of Ireland.

“These alternatives will take time to come to fruition and growers will continue to need access to a viable growing medium in the interim to protect these valuable jobs and sectors,” research and development minister Martin Heydon said of the matter.

While researchers have made progress toward this goal, compost manufacturers and growers in Ireland have yet to receive efficient and affordable solutions.

Mahon mentioned how the lack of peat alternatives will become a major issue in the coming years. His company’s research holds the hope that willow substitutes will be a viable option for growers in the future.

Also see:

12 Types of Compost and Their Uses
Industrial Composting Technologies: An Introduction

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