Promising plantain trial looking good for the planet


Fonterra and Nestlé are teaming up with DairyNZ to expand a promising plantain trial 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.

The leafy herb plantain in dairy cows’ diets

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

Now, Fonterra and Nestlé are helping expand the project further through additional funding and by sharing expertise.

“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 collaboration 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 DairyNZ’s Tararua Plantain Project.

We’re all about finding ways to ensure Aotearoa New Zealand has a thriving environment and a thriving farming economy.

charlotte rutherford, fonterra director, on-farm excellence

With the funding boost from Fonterra and Nestlé, it is expected these farms and more will increase the amount they grow, therefore maximising the benefits.

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

Nestlé, the world’s largest food company and a customer of Fonterra’s, was keen to be involved in the Tararua project given the commitments it has made around sustainability.

“Working with our suppliers and others is critical for achieving Nestlé’s target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Reducing on-farm greenhouse gas emissions and protecting waterways will help us get there and we’re pleased to partner with Fonterra and DairyNZ on this initiative,” says Nestlé’s Robert Erhard.

The project also focuses on improving understanding of how farmers can implement Ecotain successfully and engaging farmers through workshops, events and a national farmer network to extend knowledge.

DairyNZ environmental change specialist, Adam Duker

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. It is delivering real, tangible results valued by farmers. The project has community at 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,” says Dr McCall. For more information about the Tararua Plantain Project click here.