Peat Moss Industry
The growing media industry provides a broad range of peat, peat-based, and more recently coir- and bark-based, growing mixes, soil amendments and other growing media products to professional plant growers as well as to retail consumers. Demand for quality growing media is expected to continue as North American lawn and garden consumerism steadily increases.
Professional growers—the principal suppliers of green goods to the retail market—have responded to increasing demand by using high-quality growing media, thus maximizing cost efficiencies and product quality while meeting delivery schedules on a timely basis. Historically, the North American peat industry has been characterized by a small number of long-term participants with a diversified customer base. The North American industry benefits from significant entry barriers. Apart from the superiority of peat moss as a growing medium, it requires significant capital to develop peatlands and establish processing facilities and transportation networks. The peat industry also has a strong professional customer loyalty.
Growing media components include peat moss, bark, top soil, coir (coconut husk pith), peanut hulls and various composts made from organic wastes as well as inorganic components such as processed perlite, pumice and vermiculite. A growing medium can be comprised of one ingredient or a mix of ingredients, with or without soil. Soilless growing media has long been recognized as superior to soil-based alternatives and is generally peat-based or, for certain plant species, bark-based. Overall, soilless media produces better plants by offering exceptional aeration and water-holding properties. It is also low cost, consistent, uniform, lightweight and easy to transport.
Above all, peat moss is recognized by all growers as the best soilless medium base or soil amendment. This is due to its homogeneous composition, high structural stability, high capacity for water and air retention, adjustable pH and nutrient status and lack of insect pests. These superior characteristics stem from its unique cellular structure. Peat moss has large, sponge-like cavities able to hold air, water and nutrients—to maximize root development and plant growth. It is the best all-natural growing media on Earth, with no effective substitutes, which is why peat moss continues to dominate the soilless media market.
Aged and composted bark are two other raw materials used in growing mixes. Popular among landscapers, aged bark is not fully composted and makes an effective medium for the outdoor production of trees and shrubs. Composted bark is a high-quality material used as a major component of mixes for the indoor greenhouse production of crops such as poinsettias, chrysanthemums and other bedding plants.
Coir has gained new popularity as a quality growing mix due to its exceptional capacity to hold air and water. It is bulkier than peat moss and breaks down more slowly. Currently, it is most popular among professional hydroponic growers.
Peat is derived from the decomposition of organic material located in bogs and includes mosses, reeds and shrubs. Peat bogs are found throughout the world but are principally located in the northern hemisphere with significant numbers existing in Canada, Finland, Ireland and Russia.
During the last ice age, melting glaciers left large bodies of water suitable for the formation of peat bogs. The natural accumulation of sedimentary deposits in these water bodies encouraged the growth of mosses and other moisture-loving plants. As these plants colonized, grew and died, they formed a bed of partially decomposed organic residue, commonly referred to as peat or peat moss. The types of peat in a peat bog depend upon the species of plants growing in the bog. Although there are several types of peat mosses, Sphagnum species produce the highest quality peat for horticultural purposes.
Prior to harvest, a peat bog is first drained of near-surface water and cleared of all surface vegetation. The bog is then harrowed to a depth of three to four inches to expose the top layer of peat to the sun and wind. Once dried, the peat is vacuumed with harvesting machinery. A vacuum harvester can harvest an average of 100 acres per day. Ideally, the number of harvesters per bog should enable the entire exposed portion of bog area to be harvested each day.
Given the location of Canada’s peat bogs in northern wetland areas, the peat harvesting season is generally from April through to October, with 40 to 50 suitable harvest days during this period. Once harvested, the peat is stored in large piles, or stacks, adjacent to the bog area until it is transported to the processing facility. For a typical peat bog, the more valuable professional-grade peat is found near the surface. As the harvest depth increases during the life of the bog, the volume of older, more decomposed, retail-grade peat increases. The harvest from a new bog is typically 75% professional-grade peat and 25% retail-grade peat.
Canadian Peatland Reserves
There are more than 270 million acres of peatlands in Canada, representing 25% of the world’s supply, but harvesting takes place on less than 40,000 of these acres and has been completed on less than 3,000 acres. The majority of Canada’s peat bogs, over which industry participants hold rights, contain Sphagnum spp. This uniquely positions Canadian producers as the primary peat suppliers to the North American horticultural market.
The Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association (CSPMA)
Founded in 1988, the CSPMA promotes the benefits of peat moss to horticulturists and home gardeners throughout North America while also fostering preservation and responsible reclamation measures for Canadian peatlands. The organization is comprised of North America’s key peat moss producers and marketers and represents 95 percent of Canada’s total production. Canada, the world’s largest producer and exporter of horticultural peat moss, produces more than 98 percent of the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss used in the United States.
The CSPMA takes a proactive stand on environmental issues and promotes awareness of responsible environmental management of peatlands. It has an active science program and regularly funds related research and development, promotes policy and governance initiatives nationally and internationally, and advocates responsible environmental management of peatlands through trade magazines and an active campaign with the American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA).
Some key endeavors illustrating the CSPMA’s proactive stance include the adoption of a Preservation and Reclamation Policy (Revised, 1999), the publication of an issue paper on Canadian Peat Harvesting and the Environment (Second Edition, 2001) and a Sustainability Benchmarking study in 2009 (Pricewaterhouse Coopers), the attainment of the SCS Veriflora Peat Management Certification in 2011(Science Certification Systems, California), and the Hiring of a National Science Coordinator in 2012. The CSPMA has also endorsed a variety of policy initiatives including the Strategy for Responsible Peatland Management (International Peat Society), which it endorsed in 2011.
The CSPMA maintains affiliations with many respected environmental groups, such as Environment Canada, the North American Wetlands Conservation Council and Ducks Unlimited, while also working with provincial and federal government representatives. It is a member of the Canadian Business Biodiversity Council (CBBC), the Garden Writers Association, the Mulch and Soil Council and the International Peat Society headquartered in Finland. Sun Gro is a member of the CSPMA.
(1) All figures provided by Statistics Canada.
(2) 1999 and 2000 production levels increased due to increased exports to meet increased off-shore demand resulting from abnormally low harvest levels in Europe.
For more information, contact the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association.
Read: Behind the Business: Bogs, Barges and Uncle Sam Article from Grower Talks magazine.
Read: Mixing it up from Greenhouse Management, on the benefits of silicon in growing mixes.
Read: Canadian Peat Harvest 2014, an update from the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association.