TALLINN - Spearheaded by the Estonian Peat Association, a research program of the Nordic region was launched at the beginning of this year to study the effects of land use on the climate and help to adjust Estonia's action plan to reduce climate change.
The program, costing millions of euros, is led by an international team of researchers from several universities. The study is funded by more than 50 large companies from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and Sweden.
"Today, much of European horticulture and vegetable farming, and even Nordic forestry, depends on the availability of peat, as it is with the help of peat substrates that young forest plants are grown. The impact of the peat industry on the climate and its weight for society are very important and therefore any decision taken in this area must be scientifically sound. This is the opinion shared by our colleagues in the Baltic and the Nordic countries, who have all joined the Estonian initiative," said Eve Altrov, CEO of the Estonian Peat Association.
A key feature of the sector is that peat, as an inherently neutral base substrate, can be used to more accurately dose the amounts of fertilizers and water needed for plant growth, helping to save natural resources and prevent potential harm to human health. According to the association, Estonian peat already plays an important role in ensuring food security in Europe.
"Estonia and the other Nordic countries have a great resource at their disposal, and by using it wisely we can contribute to achieving our climate goals, as well as to shaping a pleasant living environment for the future and providing healthy food choices. This, we can say, is also the long-term ambition of the major work that has started," she added.
In January, the Lithuanian Peat Association was the last to join the initiative. The door will be kept open for more producers from all over the world. The first results of the study can be expected in two years, and the project is scheduled to end in 2028.
At the same time, the Estonian Peat Association will continue working with local universities. In cooperation with the University of Tartu and Tallinn University, and supported by the expertise of the Estonian University of Life Sciences, the first study on the carbon cycle of horticultural peat will be completed by this summer.
Alar Astover, professor of soil science at the Estonian University of Life Sciences, says that peat-based growing mixtures will continue to play a key role in horticulture in the near future. This requires knowledge of the properties of peat.
"While we need to think about ensuring the competitiveness of producers, food security and diversity of food, it is necessary to pay attention to the environmental impacts of peat use and the reduction of carbon emissions," Astover said.
The Estonian peat sector consists of more than 30 companies, which directly or indirectly provide work for about 2,000 people, mainly in rural areas. Estonia's peat sector supplies growing substrates mainly to the European horticultural sector, which supplies the entire region with horticultural and food products.