Bord na Móna is looking to fish farms, herb growing, recycling, tourism, and renewable energy to replace peat as it faces into a perfect storm.
Chief executive Tom Donnellan confirmed that trials of fish production and herb growing are already under way in the midlands.
He told a meeting of Offaly County Council that the company intends to double its renewable energy production through solar, wind, and biogas. It has already begun recycling tyres and intends to begin processing plastic.
“We are never going back to the Bord na Móna of the past, we are getting out of peat. We are reinventing ourselves,” said Mr Donnellan.
He also outlined the challenges facing Bord na Móna and the reason it announced between 380 and 430 job losses last October. He said the company was loss-making in 2017 and would be again this year.
He said it is too “top heavy” with management and administration and 200 of the 430 positions being lost were in those posts. Although talks are continuing on redundancies, he said “all indications are that it will be a voluntary process”.
Mr Donnellan said Bord na Móna is facing into the “perfect storm” in the coming years. The PSO levy is due to run out for peat in 2020 while UK retailers, which take 80% of the company’s retail horticultural peat, intend to go peat-free by 2020.
Two midlands power stations are coming out of planning in the same year and will need to be co-fired with biomass and peat if they secure planning permission to convert. Mr Donnellan believes any increase in carbon tax could force the peat briquette out of business.
He explained that a trial growing 200,000 freshwater perch and trout on a 12-acre site in Mount Lucas, Co Offaly, is going well. He said the work would be evaluated over the next 12 to 15 months and, if successful, a business plan would be put together to go full scale.
While little grows on bogs, he said the company had begun producing herbs at Mount Lucas for use in cosmetics and medicines.
Mr Donnellan said it is liaising with a well-established Italian company which supplies similar herbs on a large scale.
He pointed out that Ireland exports nearly all its recyclables. He said Bord na Móna has begun recycling tyres for use in playgrounds and playing pitches and intends to begin recycling plastic.
“We have a number of irons we are putting in the fire, some of them might not work but we will give it our best shot,” said Mr Donnellan.