The year 2020 has been an eye-opening one in many ways. Everywhere, people witnessed the value of social relationships and solidarity. Work habits have been turned upside down, and priorities have been redefined. Not surprisingly the corporate world also went through major changes. Some companies had to reinvent themselves and find new ways to respond to the emerging pandemic reality. Others appeared, more than ever, of vital importance for the well-being of our communities. A sector where this became particularly evident is that of food security.

Securing the food supply chain

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of securing the food supply chain as, despite the overall pause the entire world has been forced into, the world population still needs to be fed. As exposed by the World Bank, the year 2020 saw an important surge in food insecurity across the planet due to the rise in food prices, reduced incomes, and lower exportations [1].  At the same time, the demand for fruits and vegetables increased, not only because people started cooking more, but also in an attempt to develop healthier eating habits, in response to the global health crisis. In Canada, the Ontario Produce Marketing Association (OPMA) noted an 11% increase in vegetable sales in 2020 [2].

Growing Media as a response to Food Insecurity

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, food security means “that all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life” [3]. In recent years, soilless cultures relying on growing media (such as greenhouse productions) has emerged as a solution to this need for safe, consistent, and productive food production systems. It provides economical and practical solutions to some of the challenges growers across the world were already facing before the pandemic, including the lack of labour, limited resources, and extreme weather conditions [4]. In Canada, from all the fresh produce (fruits, greenhouse vegetables, mushrooms, field vegetables, potatoes), greenhouse vegetables were the crop with the highest value, accounting for 49% of all fresh produce exports in 2019 [5], tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers figuring at the top of that list.

Peat in Food Production chain

In this context, the contribution of the Horticultural Peat Moss industry to food security as a reliable provider of quality growing media for soilless cultivation has proven essential. In North America, and especially in the United States where 87% of the Canadian Peat Moss production is exported [6], growing media are composed of on average 52% Peat Moss [7]. Within the food production chain, peat is used in the preparation of seedlings of multiple greenhouse and field-cultivated crops, the production of vegetables, fruits, and herbs, as well as to grow mushrooms. For growers, choosing peat-based growing media provides the right balance between water retention and drainage, to create the ideal conditions for seedlings and plants to develop. It is also readily available and is a pest, weed and pathogen-free growing media constituent. Those advantages are even more crucial as crops must be productive and high in quality to provide healthy food for human consumption.

An Essential Service

From the very beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the Canadian Horticulture Peat Moss industry has and continues to be considered by government agencies, an essential business in support of the supply chain requirements for the essential service of food security.  Pandemic or not, Canadian-produced growing media ensures the availability of fresh and safe food at local, national, and international scales.