Peatlands volume, US imports decreased in 2023

The peat is in male hand on a blurred background, close up. The researcher is holding his fingers a sample of mineral of organic origin in outdoors.

The global volume of peatlands has been decreasing at a rate of .05% per year while U.S. imports of the material were estimated to have dropped 21% last year, to 1.1 million tons, from 1.4 million tons in 2022, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

USGS’s Mineral Commodity Summaries 2024 said U.S. peat exports in 2023 were estimated to have increased by 7% to an estimated 46,000 tons from 43,000 tons in 2022.

Peat continues to accumulate on 60% of global peatlands. However, the volume of global peatlands has been decreasing at a rate of 0.05% per year owing to harvesting and land development, USGS said. Many countries evaluate peat resources based on volume or area because the variations in densities and thickness of peat deposits make it difficult to estimate tonnage, but USGS converted volume to tons using the average bulk density of peat produced in each of those countries.

In 2023, U.S. peat stocks were estimated to have increased to 240,000 tons from 235,000 tons in 2022. More than half of the U.S. peat resources are located in undisturbed areas of Alaska.

According to the report:

  • the estimated free on board mine value of marketable peat sold by producers in the conterminous U.S. was $16 million in 2023;
  • peat was harvested and processed by 26 companies in 10 of the conterminous states—two companies were idle in 2023;
  • the top five producing states were Florida, Illinois, Maine, Michigan and Minnesota, which accounted for 98% of the peat sold;
  • Reed-sedge peat accounted for about 87% of the total volume produced, followed by sphagnum moss with an estimated 10%;
  • domestic peat applications included earthworm culture medium, golf course construction, mixed fertilizers mushroom culture, nurseries, packing for flowers and plants, seed inoculates and vegetable cultivation.
  • in the industrial sector, peat was used as an oil absorbent and as an efficient filtration medium for the removal of waterborne contaminants in mine waste streams, municipal storm drainage and septic systems.

The world’s leading peat producers in 2023 were estimated to be, in descending order of production, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Latvia and Belarus. Concerns about climate change prompted several countries to plan to decrease or eliminate the use of peat, owing to peatland’s ability to act as a carbon sink. In 2023, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) distributed $35 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act to fund conservation and restoration projects. One of the projects was a peatland conservation project in Alaska that planned to purchase 55 acres of peatland and recharge its water levels. Doing so was expected to also alleviate coastal erosion and safeguard the water quality of the area.

Other projects in the U.S. were done in partnership among conservation institutions and local and federal governments to restore peatlands in Minnesota and North Carolina. In Minnesota, research on how to restore peatlands was done in partnership with a conservation institute, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, two local universities and a local nonprofit organization.

In North Carolina, work was done with various federal and state agencies and institutions to install water management infrastructure, including water control structures to restore degraded peatlands.

Finland continued to work toward its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2035. To achieve this, peat production was to be phased out in favor of other forms of non-carbon energy. In the first half of 2023, only about 2% of Finland’s energy consumption was supplied by peat. About 42% of Finland’s energy supply was generated using renewable energy sources, whereas 26% was produced by nuclear energy

Ireland announced the end of its peat harvesting in 2021 as the country transitioned to alternative fuel sources, but peat briquet production was expected to continue until 2024. In 2023, the country released a 30-year climate plan that aims to phase out coal and peat-fired electricity generation. Instead, renewable energy sources were expected to generate about 80% of its electricity needs by 2030.

In March 2023, the United Kingdom announced a delay on its ban of peat-based growing media sales to amateur gardeners that had been expected to start by 2024. Owing to concerns from the peat sector, the ban will be delayed until 2026, with some exemptions delayed until 2030 to prepare for the phase-out, USGA said.


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