Jeff Bishop was hoping September would be a dry month in Canada so peat producers could resume harvesting. But after Tropical Storm Irene rolled through Sunday, leaving eight to 10 inches of rain in parts of Quebec, Bishop says the peat harvesting season is essentially done for producers in Eastern Canada.
“This was the worst harvesting season in the history of the industry,” says Bishop, a sales representative for Lambert Peat Moss. “The season was virtually written off up until Sunday because of weather anyway. We were hoping we’d get out there for a few days in September. We have 150 harvesters. If we could get them going we could make a dent. Some facilities and locations have been closed for weeks. We’ve had to lay people off because we simply could not pay people to sit around.”
The peat harvesting season was so poor this year that producers like Lambert Peat Moss on occasion ran vacuum harvesters through the middle of the night to take advantage of the dry periods needed to harvest peat moss. Quebec and New Brunswick didn’t necessarily receive rain every day this year, but Bishop says it virtually rained every other day there. And because Canadian bogs were constantly wet, peat suppliers found few opportunities to harvest.
Unfortunately, because the supply of Eastern Canadian peat is down, prices will likely rise and growers may find themselves in short supply next year. Bishop even says a number of Canadian producers who made commitments to growers are having to renege because the supply simply isn’t there.
“I’ve been personally getting calls and hits on my own website (CanadaPeatMoss.com) from people telling me they’re now looking to meet 50 percent of their commitments,” Bishop says.
Peat producers are even approaching other producers with a plentiful supply about purchasing raw peat so they can meet grower demands. One producer even approached Bishop about buying 300 trailer loads of Lambert peat moss at the IGC Show this month.
“Lambert had a good supply of peat left over from the year before,” Bishop says. “We had good inventory. With that inventory, we’re looking and saying: ‘Well, we had commitments to people who’ve been loyal to us. So we’re going to try to meet our commitments to existing customers. Still, supply will be tight and prices are going to be going up.”
One possible effect of the supply scene is growers may venture into other media like compost or coir as their primary source next year. Still, Bishop doesn’t believe such a switch is the answer.
“You’re going to have people trying to grow bedding plants in compost,” Bishop says. “They’re going to have dampening off. They’re going to have diseases. And anybody who thinks they’re going to resolve this by using coir … it’s not the same product.”
To increase the amount of available peat beyond spring, Bishop says Eastern Canada will need a fairly light winter that allows peat producers to harvest bogs in April or May next year. But a light winter in those provinces is wishful thinking, Bishop says, for areas that typically receive hundreds of inches of snow per winter.
“Hopefully next year we’re going to have a better weather pattern,” Bishop says. “We’re hopefully going to recoop from this. But, honestly, I think there are going to be some [peat producers] that struggle.”