Researchers are looking at planting options for farmers which not only play a role in water quality – but could also produce food for animals and even people.
Riparian planting is being investigated by a joint DairyNZ and NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) team, not only to benefit the environment but also to produce fodder for stock – and possibly humans. Their research will look into what type of effective riparian planting can also produce crops.
Many dairy farmers across the country have already carried out extensive riparian planting as part of their efforts to protect and enhance waterways, driven by the Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord.
Now DairyNZ Environment Manager Aslan Wright-Stow says they are looking for a "win-win" solution that provides environmental, economic and social gains – and will encourage farmers to keep up the good work and continue planting efforts.
"We're looking at different types of vegetation that farmers can use to not only improve water quality but also 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 through practical harvesting techniques."
He says the idea was partly inspired by hill country farmers who often prune willows or poplars, planted to stabilise erosion prone land, to feed their stock during periods of drought.
Wright-Stow says productive riparian planting for fodder is just one option the research will explore. Others include productivity applications for fibre, food and beverages, pharmaceutical products, essential oils, and dyes.
"This is new territory for New Zealand. There has been some research done overseas, but more generally to investigate bioenergy, rather than fodder production," says Wright-Stow.
The joint project between DairyNZ and NIWA is the first of its kind in New Zealand. The project will also look at the best harvesting techniques to cut and carry the vegetation, he says: "To be effective, harvesting systems must be efficient, but not damage the plant or disturb the soil."
NIWA Aquatic Rehabilitation Programme Leader Dr Fleur Matheson says the project will be a collaborative effort with research agencies working together with local farmer groups.
"This is essential because we need to be sure that the research delivers practical advice that is workable on-farm," she says.
The three-year project, which began in June, has been co-funded by the Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF). It was one of 15 new projects recently added to the 28 already confirmed from the 2017 funding round.
The SFF invests in applied research and projects led by farmers, growers, or foresters. The projects