The Canadian horticultural peat moss industry has for many years partnered with the nation’s most respected peatland researchers. Our objectives are to get a better understanding of the peat resource, the peatland ecosystem and its functions, to understand how our activities might influence these functions and to find innovative solutions to mitigate them.

The industry has been investigating several linked but different research programs over the years. Although slowed down by the pandemic impacts, two of these programs have been underway this summer.

The first program is undertaken by the Peatland Ecology Research Group (PERG) headed by Dr. Line Rochefort from Université Laval (Québec, Quebec). Its main goal is the generation of new information related to peatland management, mostly in terms of peatland restoration. The researchers are investigating four different themes: managing for biodiversity, managing for water, managing for carbon sequestration and managing for Sphagnum biomass. From the industry perspective, the entire program will end up with the development of criteria to evaluate the success of best restoration practices. It will also provide new knowledge for improving the restoration methods, evaluate the effect of landscape-scale peat extraction and restoration on the quality of runoff water, and create plant-based indicators to evaluate the carbon sequestration capacity of peatlands while testing different management options for enhancing this capacity. Last, but not least, the program also aims to improve and scale up cultivation of Sphagnum mosses for the renewable production of non-decomposed Sphagnum fibre biomass.

One of the specific projects going on this summer aims in developing a method for short-term suppression of peat decomposition through strengthening the ‘enzymic latch’ mechanism. It covers both dimensions of carbon sequestration and Sphagnum biomass, and involves researchers from various universities, including a collaboration with Bangor University (UK).

The second program is led by Dr. Nigel Roulet from McGill University (Montréal, Quebec). We already know that natural and restored peatlands (> 12-15 years) act as carbon sink while peatlands under extraction are greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters. However, the actual rate of these GHG emissions during extraction and the use of peat in the horticultural context is not known with accuracy. The project aims to collect indisputable data regarding how peat being extracted and how peat being used (in pots for example) is really behaving in terms of GHG emissions. The data will allow updating the emission factors used by the industry for their accounting process and by the Canadian government for their annual National GHG inventory reports.

Those are just a few benefits that scientific research continues to bring to our industry. Having a better knowledge regarding our resource helps the whole industry to improve its management practices. Scientific research enables our association to better inform Provincial and Federal government agencies with accurate and reliable data related to the responsible peatland management. This knowledge has in the past and will continue to serve into the future as a basis in developing new laws and regulations regarding peatland management. It is also a foundation for continuous improvement of our practices.

For all those reasons, the Canadian peat industry and its partners will keep investigating through peer-reviewed research and in-depth science-based knowledge.

September 3, 2020