How Peat Concerns Are Leading to Alternatives and Innovation

Jiffy Peat free substrate production peat moss

Dr. Brian Schulker says Jiffy’s peat-free blends combine coco products, wood fibers, pine bark, minerals, compost, and clays to deliver air-filled porosity, drainage, and stability. Photo: Jiffy Products International

In September 2023, the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association (CSPMA), whose members represent close to 90% of North America’s horticultural peat extraction, reported its annual level of harvest for the 2023 season. The annual survey of members was conducted on the status of their 2023 Actual Harvest as a percentage of their 2023 Expected Harvest as of Aug. 31. The harvest overall varied regionally, but significantly poor weather conditions across North America meant that harvest, unfortunately, was well below expected levels. However, with appropriate planning and carryover from 2022, the report indicated confidence that the needs of the market will be filled.

“There’s no doubt that the last few years have been difficult from a harvest standpoint,” says Jeff Langner, Brand Manager at Profile Products. “Most North American growers rely on peat from Canada, and it’s been harder to have a reliable supply.”

Most of this has been weather driven, but not all of it. Langner says the high peaks of demand in 2021 and 2022 put pressure on the supply chain from a transportation and manpower standpoint.

“I think those concerns have subsided a bit, but this year taught us that we’re still dependent on the weather,” Langner says, while also noting there’s been a greater focus on harvesting in sustainable ways.

How Energy Rebates Can Offer Real Savings in the Greenhouse

“We want to be sensitive to how much acreage and bogs we’re opening up in a given year,” he says.

For growers who rely on peat, this means planning ahead is critical, Langner says.

“Growers have really moved toward a just-in-time model for ordering raw materials over the past year, a lot of this driven by what’s happening with live goods inventories in store,” Langner says. “But the earlier that people can commit to orders of peat, the better off they’re going to be — both from an availability assurance, and in terms of securing consistent pricing too. When supply starts to run lean, or shipping containers become difficult to secure, costs tend to increase pretty quickly.”

Dr. Brian Schulker, Business Development Manager of Growing Media Constituents for Jiffy, says two years of growers stockpiling peat supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by two years of historically low harvests, have each added up to growers’ need today to make their peat go further.

“Jiffy has peat production in both Canada and Europe, where many countries are looking to mandate the use of peat-reduced products or even peat-free products,” Schulker says. “As a company, we have to both adapt to new and incoming legislations, while also providing a segment specific, high-quality product for our customers globally. Looking ahead, I think there’s going to be a bigger push in the U.S. for products with less peat.”

Best Practices and Alternatives

As growers consider adjusting their cultural practices to reduce peat reliance, this is where alternatives can come into play.

“I think the industry is really starting to see the benefits of engineered wood-fiber substrates that offer growers consistency and can be made year-round,” Langner says. “Reducing dependence on peat by increasing reliance on something that is more readily available and more sustainable helps growers control their inventories and manage their process. It also provides much better pricing stability for grower operations, and I believe we’re going to see more and more of a shift to materials like that over time.”

Schulker also cites the emergence of peat alternatives, including coconut coir, over the past few decades.

“It has a more neutral pH, its availability is more consistent, and it’s becoming more accepted by growers compared to other alternatives,” he says.

Schulker notes that it is both a blessing and a curse for the horticulture industry that some people think any waste product can be turned into a growing medium.

“The future innovations in our industry will require out-of-the-box thinking, and I welcome these types of collaborative ideas. I get calls from people asking if their product could be of interest in horticulture. I tell them sure, technically you can grow plants in almost anything,” Schulker says. “However, the product you choose should be segment specific. It has to be consistent, with the right physical and chemical properties for plants to flourish, and you must be able to produce it on a scale large enough to make a market impact.”

Emerging Innovations

So what’s on the horizon for reliable peat alternatives? Langner says one of the key focuses at Profile Products is assisting growers in propagation, especially those who don’t have their own soil blender.

“Using our compressed fibers in a short strand fiber means growers can utilize our material for small cell trays,” Langner says. “These short fibers can either be blended by a grower if they’re doing their own propagation mixes, or we have a finished mix, a blend of peat and wood fiber that allows a grower to take something right out of the bag and go through their system into propagation trays.”

Profile Products recently introduced its new line of specialty fibers for propagation that offers effective water management and high air porosity to promote more consistent root growth in plant trays. The line includes HydraFiber Specialty Short Fiber (SSF) and HydraFiber TruRoot + Peat, both of which are designed to easily fill trays and liners, bond tightly, and reduce the mess and waste of standard propagation mixes.

  • HydraFiber SSF provides the same benefits as the original HydraFiber advanced substrate, but the fibers are shorter and designed specifically for smaller cells. The product is designed to improve consistency, porosity, and water availability for plants.
  • HydraFiber TruRoot + Peat is a blend of engineered fibers with Canadian sphagnum peat moss in a loose fill bag, allowing growers to experience the benefit of HydraFiber in a blend, without needing any specialized equipment. Due to HydraFiber’s unique matrix, a netting is formed creating superior airspace for root growth while holding plugs together, even when the roots haven’t penetrated to the bottom of the cell.

“We’re just trying to offer all of the viable solutions to make every grower’s life easier, because we know there’s no one-size-fits-all solution in this industry,” Langner says.

At Jiffy, Schulker says the advantage of being a global company with production facilities around the world is that it has the ability to produce just about any peat alternative. The issue, as always, is logistics in delivery.

“Alternative fibers and crop-specific substrates are going to be the wave of the future,” Schulker says. “The needs of each plant and each grower are unique, and Jiffy has a portfolio of products to target the needs of each grower. With products like our Flexistart, a loose-fill propagation mix designed to aid in transplantability through automation to a product like our Preforma peat-reduced bound plug that comes pre-formed in trays that are ready to use at delivery.”

There are other new innovations:

  • Oasis Grower Solutions has launched OASIS RhizoPlug Sheet, a new engineered foam growing media designed especially for precision vegetative propagation. In developing the new sheet propagation media, Oasis Grower Solutions decreased the foam substrate’s density and resistance to facilitate easy, breakage-free sticking of cuttings, while refining and improving the media’s cell structure and capillary action.
  • Klasmann-Deilmann’s new Growbag Advanced is a new mixture of raw materials based on the GreenFibre wood fibre and a reduced proportion of coir pith. The Growbag Advanced uses local raw materials from a circular economy with a low CO2 footprint.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top