For the love of peat: 'It's not suit-and-tie work, for sure'

P.E.I.'s peat moss industry harvests and ships millions of kilograms to 10 countries around the world every year.

P.E.I.'s peat moss industry harvests and ships millions of kilograms to countries around the world

Paul Daley, general manager of Gulf Island Peat Moss, shows some of the peat moss from the Foxley River, P.E.I., site. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Like a giant vacuum cleaner, the harvester sucks up peat moss from the brown field in Foxley River, P.E.I.

It then dumps its load onto the middle of the field, where front-end loaders shove the peat into hills. 

With so much dry dirt around, it doesn't take much of a breeze to stir up a dust storm.

"It's not suit-and-tie work, for sure," said Paul Daley, general manager of Gulf Island Peat Moss.

A harvester resembling a giant vacuum cleaner — 1 of 13 at Gulf Island in Foxley River — sucks up loose peat moss. (Pat Martel/CBC)

The company has been harvesting peat moss at its 1,000-hectare site in Foxley River since 1972. The site is the largest of three locations on the Island, all owned by Annapolis Valley Peat Moss from Berwick, N.S. 

About 35 employees

During peak season from May until October, Gulf Island employs about 35 people.

The company also has its own trucking fleet, transporting close to 24 million kilometres of peat to 10 countries, including Japan, Australia, Egypt and the U.S.

The harvesters dump their loads of peat moss onto huge piles in the middle of the 1,000-hectare site. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"Everything that we have from P.E.I. is professional-grade peat moss," Daley said.

"You wouldn't probably find it just in your regular garden centre. We sell more to the professional growers or the people that grow vegetables or mushrooms."

Tag along with P.E.I. biggest peat producer 0:57

Natural organic conditioner

Peat moss, formed from the slow decomposition of vegetation, is a natural organic conditioner that increases the soil's capacity to hold water and nutrients.

Every piece of machinery involved in the peat moss harvest is equipped with balloon tires to keep them from sinking into the sawdust-like material. (Pat Martel/CBC)

It has the texture of wood shavings and fine dirt, which makes it hard to walk through without sinking. That's why machinery at Gulf Island is equipped with balloon-like flotation tires.

The peat beds run deep in places. "I would say between 15 and 20 feet," Daley said.

Bales weigh up to a tonne

After the peat is harvested, it is transported from the field to a nearby packing plant, where it's compressed and stuffed into plastic bales, some weighing as much as a tonne. 

A worker stacks another bale of peat moss on a growing mountain that's nearly 3 storeys high. (Pat Martel/CBC)

The bales are then stacked outside — as high as three storeys — until they are shipped out.

In the meantime, Daley said the company is upgrading its equipment in hopes of moving into new markets with a finer grade of peat moss.

Restoring peatlands

And it is restoring its older peatlands that have gone out of production by planting sphagnum moss ground cover.

"It'll come back through time," Daley said.

Once peat is removed from an area, live sphagnum moss is planted to help restore the bog to its original state. (Pat Martel/CBC)

About the Author

Pat Martel has worked with CBC P.E.I. for three decades, mostly with Island Morning where he was a writer-broadcaster and producer. He joined the web team recently to share his passion for great video. Pat also runs an adult coed soccer league in Stratford. He retired in Oct. 2019.