DairyNZ has been leading a promising plantain trial in the lower North Island, and now Fonterra and Nestlé have joined the team to help improve waterways and reduce on-farm greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Incorporating certain varieties of plantain into a cow’s diet has been shown to reduce the nitrogen concentration in their urine, which can leach through soil into groundwater.

To test the benefits in local pastures, DairyNZ has been leading the Tararua Plantain Project, which sees farmers growing the leafy herb for their cows. The Ministry for Primary Industries has also been involved as a key contributor.

Now, additional funding and expertise is being introduced through the collaboration with Fonterra and Nestlé.

“We’re all about finding ways to ensure Aotearoa New Zealand has a thriving environment and a thriving farming economy,” says Fonterra’s director of on-farm excellence, Charlotte Rutherford.

“We can achieve more by partnering with others, so it’s great to join forces with DairyNZ and Nestlé. This is helping to speed up the adoption of plantain by farmers. Ultimately it could be a real game-changer to reduce nitrogen from cows and help mitigate nitrous oxide emissions.”

The new partnership is helping to accelerate uptake of Ecotain – a blend of environmentally functional plantain cultivars developed by seed company Agricom. Currently, 50 Tararua farms have started to use plantain through the project. This number is expected to rise with the funding boost.

Ecotain has ben used in studies by DairyNZ, Agricom, Lincoln University, Massey University and AgResearch, with results showing it can significantly reduce nitrogen leaching. The result is promising news for farmers, with preliminary studies also showing Ecotain has the potential to lower on-farm GHG emissions through the reduction of nitrous oxide.

The Tararua Plantain Project looks at how farmers can implement Ecotain successfully, and engages farmers through workshops, events and a national farmer network to extend knowledge.

As the industry good body representing dairy farmers, DairyNZ invests significantly in sustainability research. DairyNZ’s general manager for new systems and competitiveness, David McCall, says the dairy sector has a wide range of work underway to reduce nitrates entering waterways and reduce on-farm emissions.

“The seven-year Tararua Plantain Project is a flagship project for the dairy sector,” says McCall.

“It is delivering real, tangible results valued by farmers. The project has community as its heart as it seeks water quality improvements, while ensuring the dairy sector continues as an economic pillar within the local community.

“It is excellent to have extra support from Fonterra and Nestlé within the Tararua catchment.”