Peat fields join in climate action

2023-08-29 Kristiina Lång and Sanna Saarnio

Finland is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2035, meaning that by then, the land-use sector should bind an amount of carbon equal to Finland’s total emissions. The emission reduction potential of peat fields needs to be utilised, as they account for over half of the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and decrease the net sink of the land-use sector by approximately eight million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Peat fields have a different significance in different areas in Finland. Emission reduction actions can be targeted cost-effectively and without endangering food production. Primarily, actions should be targeted to

  • areas where the peat fields’ share of the total field area is small,
  • fields that have lost their production capacity,
  • farms that do not participate in food production or
  • abandoned fields.

This would be cost-effective, as regular agricultural subsidies are being paid for some of these areas without any food production in return.

Fairness in agricultural subsidies

Not all fields produce food, and you can receive agricultural subsidies just by owning a field. For example, in 2020, 62 million euros were used to support “farms” that did not sell a single euro’s worth of agricultural products or rent out their fields to another farmer. It would benefit society and be fair to farmers who produce food for agricultural subsidies to only be granted for food production or producing environmental benefits.

Funding must be directed to rewetting peat fields and paludiculture


The emissions arising from peat decomposition can be reduced most effectively by raising the level of groundwater. If we want the funding set aside for emission reduction to be used effectively, it must be directed to the rewetting of peat fields as much as possible. However, restoring a peat field to its natural state removes it from production use, and this is why an alternative has been developed: paludiculture.

Paludiculture is a way to use rewetted peat fields or former peat production areas for biomass production. Paludiculture aims to prevent groundwater levels from falling below 20 cm above ground level. Paludiculture is also suitable for fields where weak drainage creates challenges for regular cultivation.

Wet environments can be used to produce, for example, reed canary grass, willow, peat moss or cattails for the use of various secondary-sector industries. Raw materials produced through paludiculture can be used in, among others, substrates, the textile industry (fibres and colourants) and construction materials, as well as the food and pharmaceutical industry. Cattails, for example, are a real natural supermarket, and industrial applications for their stems, roots and fluff are already on the market.

Calling for new business


Paludiculture comes with technical and logistical challenges, as wet ground cannot carry heavy machinery, and a user for the biomass should be found within a profitable transportation distance. However, the roots of perennial wetland plants may well carry the weight of machines, and the groundwater level can be lowered when large machines are needed.

Finland needs operators to undertake harvest contracts and to deliver various biomasses to those who need them.

Agricultural machinery suited for wet conditions can be bought in Central Europe. Finland needs operators to undertake harvest contracts and to deliver various biomasses to those who need them.

Producing herbaceous biomass for industry in forestry-centric Finland may sound absurd. However, it is a big challenge to obtain the raw materials to replace all fossil-based materials or materials requiring a lot of production inputs without the carbon sink of forests decreasing even more.

Paludiculture’s raw materials could bring about new innovations and alternatives desired by consumers. By communicating about the environmental impacts of paludiculture products, companies can gain a competitive advantage.

The development of paludiculture’s value chain is beginning, and new data on its climate impacts is also coming up. The CANEMURE project has transitioned two fields with a weak production capacity to paludiculture, and studied the climate impacts of rewetting. The results will be completed this year.

So paludiculture is needed, but how could the value chain be started? A good solution could be to pilot the production of a specific raw material around the production plants that use it.


The most promising paludiculture value chains right now are related to the production of substrates and bedding. The added value of production would be even better if the manufacturing of products with high added value, such as colourants, construction products or textiles, could be included in the same cluster.

By combining information on the use and state of the fields and local companies’ needs for raw materials, we could optimise the economic and environmental benefits. Hopefully, the coming years will see courageous pilots come together and develop their operations in tandem with each other, and more sustainable products will be introduced to the market while simultaneously reducing the emissions of agriculture.



Research professor Kristiina Lång 

Senior scientist Sanna Saarnio 

Natural resources institute Finland (Luke)

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