Friday, 14 September 2018 09:43

From riparian plants to pharmaceuticals

Written by 
Aslan Wright-Stow, DairyNZ. Aslan Wright-Stow, DairyNZ.

DairyNZ and NIWA are jointly looking for riparian plant options that not only benefit the environment, but lend themselves to fodder for stock, food for humans, and even pharmaceutical making.

Thousands of dairy farmers have extensively planted riparian strips to protect and enhance waterways, in line with the Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord, says DairyNZ environment manager Aslan Wright-Stow. 

He is urging farmers to keep planting as the researchers search out farm environment and economic and social gains.

“We’re looking at different types of vegetation that farmers can use to improve water quality and retain a degree of farm productivity from riparian areas, which will encourage larger setbacks from waterways,” says Wright-Stow.

“One part of the study is to quantify the performance of tree species to intercept nutrients from greater depths than grasses, or other shallow rooting plants, and how those same nutrients can be retained on the farm by practical harvesting techniques.”

Partly they are inspired by hill country farmers who often prune willows or poplars, planted to stabilise erosion prone land, to feed their stock during drought.

Wright-Stow says productive riparian planting for fodder is just one option the research will explore, plus fibre, food and beverages, pharmaceutical products, essential oils and dyes.

The joint project between DairyNZ and NIWA is the first of its kind in NZ.

“This is new territory for NZ. Research overseas has been generally to investigate bioenergy rather than fodder production,” says Wright-Stow.

The project will also look at the best harvesting techniques to cut and carry the vegetation.

“To be effective, harvesting systems must be efficient but not damage the plant or disturb the soil,” says Wright-Stow.

NIWA aquatic rehabilitation leader Dr Fleur Matheson says the research agencies and local farmer groups will work together, “essentially to ensure the research gives practical advice that is workable onfarm”.

The three-year project, starting late September, is co-funded by the Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF). It was one of 15 new projects recently added to the 28 already confirmed in the 2017 funding round.

The SFF funds applied research and projects led by farmers, growers or foresters.

 

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