Plant nursery owners have staged a protest outside the Convention Centre in Dublin calling on the Government to allow for the harvesting of peat for horticultural produce.

They also warned of significant job losses in their industry because of the unavailability of Irish peat.

The nursery holders said Irish peat stockpiles have now dried up since harvesting has all but ceased.

There is a high likelihood that there will be no Irish plants for sale next year with garden centres forced to import all of their products, they said.

Legislative change is required if Irish peat is to be made available this coming September, they added.

The Irish Farmers' Association said members will be forced to import peat from Europe and the Baltics, which is at odds with the green credentials of the horticultural sector.

"As a major segment of the Irish horticulture sector relies on peat, particularly the mushroom and ornamental sectors, this will have devastating consequences," IFA President Tim Cullinan said.

"Producers will either have to close their business or import peat, which will make some businesses unviable because of the extra cost," he added.

Larry Doran, a spokesperson for Kildare Grower, said the industry is facing its largest crisis to date, saying businesses will be forced to close if no solution is found.

A consultation group has been set up by the Minister of State Malcolm Noonan to examine the issues.