New plantain research a turning point for dairy


A new $22 million research initiative is underway to help dairy farmers improve freshwater quality – through using plantain pastures. 

The Plantain Potency and Practice programme is designed to help dairy farmers meet environmental goals, government regulations and market expectations.

Modelling by DairyNZ forecasts a potential reduction of 15,000 tonnes per year of nitratenitrogen leached on 4200 New Zealand dairy farms in nitrogen-sensitive catchments per year by 2035. This is a 37 percent reduction from current levels.

Plantain use is predicted to lead to flow-on benefits to national and regional economies. This is due to farmers spending less on other nitrate leaching solutions, therefore having more money to spend on goods and services. Plantain use is expected to save farmers more than $1 billion per decade.

The work will focus on proving plantain’s effectiveness at reducing nitrate leaching, investigating regional effects and protecting the supply chain. The programme will use PGG Wrightson Seeds’ Ecotain environmental plantain because it already has proven effectiveness. 

The work aims to give farmers confidence to invest in growing plantain as an animal feed on their farms throughout New Zealand. An evaluation system will be developed to assess the environmental benefits of other plantain cultivars.

“This programme is very exciting and is geared at delivering many positive outcomes for farmers, the environment and New Zealand’s economy,” said DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle.

“Plantain offers the sector real potential to deliver a new effective option for farmers. This research is a platform to see what it can really do for farming and our waterways.  

“Dairy farmers have a long history of innovation on-farm. This is a great example of Government, farmers and organisations working together to refine our practices and technologies.”

Associate Agriculture Minister Hon Meka Whaitiri today announced an $8.98 million Government grant over seven years to expand the innovative sector-run Plantain Potency and Practice programme

Programme partners DairyNZ, PGG Wrightson Seeds and Fonterra welcome the grant from the Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI’s) Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund. The three partners are collectively investing $10.47 million in cash and $2.8 million in kind.

“We are delighted the Government is contributing to this innovative initiative. We’re optimistic the programme will confirm previous research, commissioned by us and undertaken by a range of organisations, showing plantain has the potential to significantly contribute to environmental improvement,” said PGG Wrightson Seeds chief executive John McKenzie.

“New Zealand dairy farmers are already world leaders when it comes to sustainable milk production, and this is about offering another practical way to improve environmental performance on farm,” said Fonterra director on farm excellence Charlotte Rutherford. 

“The programme will look at the impact of Ecotain pastures right across the supply chain – from the farm to the consumer and everything in between, including our manufacturing processes

“Our goal is to develop a quality solution that can be applied at scale across farms nationwide. The partners will work closely with farmers to ensure the solutions work for them, are achievable and fit well into New Zealand farming systems.”

Ecotain was developed by seed company Agricom (one of PGG Wrightson Seeds’ businesses).

Additional delivery partners in the Plantain Potency and Practice programme are Lincoln University, Massey University, Lincoln Agritech, AgResearch, Plant & Food Research and Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research.

About the Plantain Potency and Practice programme

The programme aims to substantially reduce nitrate leaching to freshwater from New Zealand dairy farms using plantain.

Farm trials

  • The programme will include large-scale farm systems experiments at Lincoln and Massey Universities. These will measure nitrate leaching under plantain pasture compared to perennial ryegrass, to confirm reductions in leaching.
  • The trials will also confirm the proportion of plantain required in the pasture to achieve nitrogen-loss reductions, determine the effects of different soil and climate conditions, and capture any changes in farm profit between the systems. 
  • If proven successful, the partners will work with farmers nationwide in a codevelopment approach to help them adopt plantain onto their farms, measure outcomes and demonstrate success to other farmers.

How plantain is used on dairy farms 

  • Farmers use plantain as a component of their pasture species mixture when sowing a new pasture. It can be sown with a grass (most commonly perennial ryegrass) and a clover (most commonly white clover). 
  • Plantain can also be sown by itself in a few paddocks as a special-purpose feed for animals. For example, it can be used in summer when plantain can grow better than ryegrass in dry soils. Plantain is a nutritious and palatable herb for cows to eat.

Building on existing research:

The Plantain Potency and Practice programme builds on previous research and extension projects including:

Forages for Reduced Nitrate Leaching

  • A DairyNZ-led cross-sector research programme showed plantain has the potential to reduce nitrate leaching by more than 20 percent. 

The Greener Pastures Project

  • A PGG Wrightson Seeds (Agricom) and Callaghan Innovation funded project discovering the four mechanisms by which plantain, and more specifically Ecotain environmental plantain, reduces nitrate from the urine patch. The programme provided key information which saw Ecotain win the 2019 Innovation Award at Fieldays. 

Tararua Plantain Project

  • A DairyNZ-led project is supporting farmers to introduce plantain on their farms in the Tararua area, and is showing positive results. The project began in 2018 and involves 50 farmers so far. The partners are DairyNZ, Agricom, MPI, Fonterra and Nestlé


For further information contact:

Vanessa Feaver
DairyNZ media team
Phone: 027 836 6295

Philippa Norman
Fonterra communications
Phone: 027 582 0492

Alick Elliott
PGG Wrightson Seeds – GM marketing
Phone: 027 596 3953