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Peat and after-life concept

January 15, 2020

Sustainable peat harvesting and after-life

Together with stakeholders, Kekkilä-BVB will develop the sustainable harvesting and after life concept for peat bogs. We own peat bogs in Finland, Sweden and Estonia. To ensure sustainable harvesting and after life processes, we will combine current best practices with a future look. A part of this is RPP certification.

1 Select peat area

Kekkilä-BVB peat is harvested only from carefully selected sites where specific extraction permits have been obtained from the local government. These areas are selected, in part, because they have no conservation value. We are not harvesting peat from protected areas. In European Union, peat extracted for fuel or horticulture is harvested from only 0.4 % of all peatlands.

The most regulated companies are those that have an impact on peatlands. From the initiative, it takes several years until all permissions are granted and extraction of peat can start. This includes assessing the site for its conservation values as well as making specific plans to ensure that the bog can be regenerated, when the peat extraction is finished.

2 Preparing for harvesting

After obtaining the necessary permits a series of ditches is dug across the peatland to drain water from the bog. This allows the surface the bog to dry out in order to enable peat extraction. In its natural state the peatland has an extremely soft surface which prevents machines to operate on the bog. It can take up to three years until extraction can start after the first ditches have been excavated.

Responsible Produced Peat (RPP)

By 2024, Kekkilä-BVB will have 80% of used peat RPP certified. Responsibly Produced Peat certification ensures that peatland will be used, managed and restored in a responsible way. The RPP certification system does not allow peat extraction from high conservation value areas.

It stimulates peat extraction from highly degraded areas followed up by appropriate after-use measures. It also implies leaving all ecological valuable areas, with or without a nature conservation status, undisturbed. Responsibly Produced Peat certification secures the best possible development after completion of peat production, with preference for restoration.

3 Harvesting

In Kekkilä-BVB the best available technology (BAT) is used for the water protection in the preparation and production of peat in order to protect the environment and to ensure sustainable production. Peat producers are under very strict regulations. However, we are not sustainable just because the law says so. It is our values and most importantly our customers, which oblige us. We are setting the industry standards as member of Growing Media Europe (GME).  We follow EPAGMA’s strict Code of Practice for Responsible Peat Management and are working actively to establish the environmental certification called Responsibly Produced Peat.

When peatlands are drained and degraded, they emit CO2 (carbon dioxide). These degraded peatlands can be perfectly used for peat production. Their rehabilitation afterwards will reduce the emission of CO2 significantly. About 58 % of the peatlands in the EU are degraded.

Different types of sphagnum peat for growing media

The colour of sphagnum peat – white, brown or black peat – reflects its degree of decomposition. The level of decomposition is expressed in the von Post scale and divided into ten classes from very slightly decomposed (H1-H2) to completely decomposed peat (H9-H10). The best peat for substrates is from H1 to H6 in the von Post scale.

Different types of peat are physically and chemically different. For example, dark or “black” highly decomposed sphagnum peat has the highest water holding capacity, whereas the white sphagnum peat has the highest air capacity. Calcium and magnesium concentrations as well as pH-values also vary between the different peat types.

Peat from different sources varies also biologically and in microbial composition. Generally, blond or light-colored peat (H1-H2 in the von Post scale) are known to be very disease suppressive. This is because they can harbor high populations of ‘friendly’ microbes such as Trichoderma and Streptomyces species, which have shown to reduce the levels of pathogenic microbes in soil.

Looking for peat we go to drained bogs with extraction permits, if the bog is untouched or protected, we do not go there. The peat can be harvested roughly from May to September, when the weather is warm, and the surface of the bog dry enough. Horticultural peat is extracted using two different methods to produce two types of peat – milled peat and block peat.

Milled peat 

To produce milled peat, 1–3 cm thin layers of peat are milled or harrowed loose from the surface of the drained peat bog. After several days of drying under the sun the peat is sufficiently dry (approximately 40–45% moisture content) to be harvested. It is collected from the surface of the peat bog by vacuum harvesters or collected from previously built ridges. Stockpiles of peat are formed at the edge of the bog and covered. Finally, when required at the factory, the peat is transported for further processing.

Block peat 

In order to produce block peat, big blocks of peat are dug out up to a depth of approximately one metre.  These blocks are left on the surface of the bog to drain excess water. As the blocks dry they are turned and finally piled manually in small piles to dry until they are dry enough to be processed in the substrate producing unit.

4 After-use for regenerating the bog ecosystem

Once peat extraction is finished the land is still valuable. We make sure life continues in the bogs long after we leave them. Nature is often richer then before we came. The land can be used for other purposes which have been pre-determined. The after-life of a peat bog is often determined by 2 factors. First, we harvest from owned and rented peat bogs. Whereas with the owned peat bogs we retain control during the after-life stage, with a rented bog the owner makes the final decision. However, in both cases, after life is determined in the harvesting permit. The second factor is the natural state of the peat bog. Due to natural factors, some bogs are more wet than others making them more suitable for re-wetting. Others naturally stay dry making them more suitable for forestry and agriculture.

The most common types of after-use are forestry, agriculture and re-wetting. During the process of re-wetting, ditches are blocked in order to re-wet the area and native plants are planted to encourage the regeneration of a natural bog ecosystem. In many cases, the restored areas have even higher biodiversity than before peat production.

During the re-wetting, the emission of CO2 is significantly reduced, and the bog will again start absorbing CO2.

We at Kekkilä-BVB are constantly studying and testing alternative materials. All materials have their pros and cons and none of them is perfect. However, peat performs best in overall comparison combining both quality and environmental criteria.

Small carbon foot print for transport

Peat has a low bulk density and is easy compressible. This makes it very fuel efficient for transporting over long distances. This helps to keep transportation costs low and to reduce impact on climate change.

A comparison – this is how much peat we use at Kekkilä-BVB

Let´s imagine that all EU peatland was found in Finland. That’s 282 000 km2 which is 92 % of Finland’s area. Peat producers use 0.4 % of the total 282 000 km2. That’s about 1 100km2. And only half of that is used by companies like Kekkilä to grow something. That’s about 500 km2 and that is smaller than the area of Helsinki. In the whole of EU!