Irish peat firm enters SA market

13 February 2008

Cape Town-based Echo Horticulture has acquired sole rights to distribute Harte Peat mushroom casing soil from Ireland in the sub-Saharan African region, with the company also hoping to supply a third of South Africa’s mushroom market.

According to Freshinfo.com, the deal was concluded during an Irish trade mission to South Africa in January that was headed by the Irish prime minister. Harte Peat founder and MD Thomas O’Harte was among 50 Irish business leaders who also made the trip.

Echo Horticulture was created by the Earthwize Environmental Group to supply South African horticulturalists and the local mushroom industry with raw sphagnum peat – the partially decomposed residue of sphagnum moss species found in bogs – which Earthwize initially used for pollution control purposes.

Earthwize director Dave Marock told SAinfo this week that his company initially imported sphagnum peat that it then dried under a patented process that prevents the cell structure from being damaged, enabling the peat to repel water and absorb hydrocarbon pollutants instead.

“Horticulture clients became aware that we had raw sphagnum peat, which prior to processing absorbs water and is good for horticulture,” he said. “This then led to a new division being formed, called Echo Horticulture.”

According to Echo Horticulture’s website, peat moss plays an important role in all aspects of horticulture, including plant propagation, floriculture, vegetable and nursery stock production, and home gardening.

Marock said that buyer interest in the peat led the company to look for suppliers of wet dug black peat, of which there are only three suppliers worldwide – Harte Peat being one of them.

“The local bogs also closed down and the mushroom industry switched to imported casing, of which we became a supplier with the Harte Peat range,” Marock said.

According to Monaghan, Ireland based Harte Peat, its casing soil is a blend of types of peat and limestone flour or spent sugar beet lime, depending on the type of growing system used. Wet dug black peat, which is being imported for use by the local industry, consists of well-decomposed sphagnum moss matter from the bottom of the bog, has a moisture content of 90% and tends to be sticky in nature.

Depending on the type of casing soil used, mushrooms can then be grown in bags, trays, blocks or shelves.

“We initially targeted 20% to 25% of the market,” Marock said. “However the quality is so good that we have adjusted our sights and believe that we can achieve at least 35% of the SA market and maybe more.”

SAinfo reporter

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