Horticulture hearing: Peat moss shortage catches Congress’ attention

On Sept. 30, 2022, Brian Jackson, a professor at North Carolina State University, participated in a briefing with members of the House Agricultural Committee regarding the peat moss shortage.

Greenhouse Management: What brought about this Congressional hearing about the current peat moss shortage?

Brian Jackson: This has been brewing for a while. It started as a result of growers not being able to get peat moss from the Canadian peat producers, which has been a universal problem for growers of every commodity for the last two and a half years. What made this different is that the mushroom growers in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, which is the heartbeat of the mushroom industry in the U.S., … reached out to their representative in Congress. That representative is Glenn Thompson, who happens to be the ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, so he asked his staffers to look into this issue of why peat was unavailable, what peat is, etc. His staffers began contacting people, starting with the peat producers in Canada that were selling peat … then they got pointed in my direction, so that’s how I got brought into this.

GM: What happened during the hearing?

BJ: We all gave opening statements, then the congressmen started asking questions and it really was an education to them about how peat moss is a huge entity in the horticultural world affecting so many different commodities and food systems and ornamental systems, but that peat is only a player in this bigger growing media realm. And I think we did a good job of educating the congressmen about what soilless production of crops is and what some of the examples of the industries that rely on soilless production of plants are, from Christmas trees to tobacco transplants all the way around to floriculture, cannabis, the whole gamut.

So that was the first part, educating them about how this is a big player in agriculture. And then they asked me some questions … and they were listening to all of our perspectives. And then it came back to me. This is the biggest takeaway and this is where their eyebrows lifted. And I have never spoken truer words. I said, ‘Gentlemen, the innovations in agriculture, at the heart of that being horticulture, are heavily dependent on soilless production of plants in some type of indoor, controlled or soilless environment. And that is only going to increase in the future.’ And I said, ‘Gentlemen, substrate security is food security. Substrate security is national security.’

GM: Going forward, what are you hoping will come out of this hearing?

BJ: The hope is that an official hearing will be the next step to further move along the idea of peat moss, growing media and soilless systems.

There’s potential of some additional language in the next farm bill and other governmental funded initiatives that could better pinpoint alternatives or just growing media in general as line items of specific areas of research that are to be evaluated and considered for funding. I think that language just to bring soilless growing media to the same level as other specific topics of importance in agriculture would be huge. 

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