Plantain partner farm, Steve and Paula Holdem (Rotorua)


6 min read

Key learnings Farm profile Nitrogen-loss goal Plantain establishment Plantain management N-loss tool Summer feed

The page provides a real-life example of how to grow plantain and details its effectiveness, both as part of dairy farm management and to reduce the environmental footprint. Steve and Paula Holdem operate a 265 effective hectare dairy farm on the Mamaku plateau, overlooking Lake Rotorua. The Holdems have successfully incorporated plantain across most of their farm by broadcasting seed with their fertiliser and reduced the farms' environmental footprint.

Farming in the Lake Rotorua catchment means meeting challenging N-loss targets. Knowing they had to do their bit for the environment, Steve and Paula Holdem began looking at tools to reduce their N-loss from their farm.

In 2018 they started incorporating plantain into their farm system. By 2023, there was plantain present across 92% of the milking platform of Holdem Farm.

Steve and Paula Holdem

Key learnings

  • The Holdem’s have successfully incorporated plantain across the majority of their farm by broadcasting seed with their fertiliser.
  • Using plantain has allowed the Holdem’s to run 2.7 cows per hectare and meet their regional rules for N-loss. Without plantain they would have to drop to 1.9 cows per hectare with associated negative impacts on production and profit.
  • The Holdem’s have found plantain grows easily on their farm, and while they haven’t faced any challenges when using plantain, they have noted that it generally takes a full season for the plantain to appear after broadcasting.

Farm profile

Steve and Paula Holdem farm on the Mamaku plateau, overlooking Lake Rotorua. They operate a 265 effective hectare dairy farm, which they bought with Steve’s parents, Jeff and Glenys in 2017. The Holdem’s have been using plantain since, as it helps them run a profitable farm system while caring for the environment and building a sustainable future.

Farm facts

Farm size (effective)


Soil class

Podzol (well-drained)


Flat to rolling

Annual rainfall


Average annual temperature

12 degrees C

Herd size and breed

700 crossbred

Stocking rate

2.7 cows/effective ha

Milksolids production (4-year average)

408 kg MS/cow

Milksolids production (4-year average)

1,087 kg MS/ha

Farm system class

System 3

Purchased feed

350 t DM maize silage and 350 t DM PKE

Nitrogen-loss goal

Holdem Farm falls under the regional council rules for the Lake Rotorua catchment. Steve and Paula are required to achieve a 29% N-loss reduction by 2032, down to 41 kg N/ha/year. The average N-loss reduction required for the Lake Rotorua catchment is 35%.

As part of the partner farm project, three scenarios were modelled that achieve the target N-loss for Holdem Farm. The base farm model includes young stock and cows wintered within the system and no plantain use.

Scenario 1: Plantain +

  • Including 30% plantain content in pastures
  • 300 cows wintered off-farm, earlier autumn culling
  • 7% less autumn N fertiliser use
  • 7% lower stocking rate and 37% less imported feed

Scenario 2: Fewer cows

  • No plantain
  • 31% lower stocking rate, no imported feed and surplus silage sold
  • 300 cows wintered off-farm, earlier autumn culling
  • 7% less autumn N fertiliser use

Scenario 3: Stand-off pad

  • No plantain
  • Stand-off pad added and used in autumn and winter, increased effluent area
  • 30 ha of less productive land converted to forestry
  • 27% less autumn N fertiliser use
  • 5% lower stocking rate, earlier autumn culling

Table 1. Modelled N-loss scenarios for Holdem Farm

(2021/22 season)
Scenario 1 Scenario 2 Scenario 3
Production (kg MS/year) 299,552 267,702 205,296 275,764
Total N loss (kg N/year) 23,271 15,912 16,031 16,077
N leached (kg/ha/year) 60 41 41 41
N surplus (kg/ha/year) 174 148 111 146
Purchased N surplus (kg/ha/year) 73 41 -2 24
Operating profit ($/ha) $4,019 $3,864 (-4%) $3,631 (-10%) $3,354 (-17%)
Methane (t CO2 eq./ha) 6.26 6.44 4.99 5.96
Nitrous oxide (t CO2 eq./ha) 1.86 1.59 1.41 1.47

Plantain establishment

Regrassing is not a common practice for the Holdem’s, so Steve and Paula mostly incorporate plantain by spreading the seed with their fertiliser. They started off by doing this at a rate of 8 kg/ha (4 kg/ha equivalent bare seed), with 100 ha of the farm broadcast with Ecotain seed in 2018/19. Over the following year, plantain was broadcast across the rest of the farm and some areas were undersown with 2 kg/ha of bare Ecotain seed.

Over time the Holdem’s saw plantain content decrease across their farm. To maintain plantain, the Holdem’s now broadcast 4 kg of coated Ecotain seed per hectare with their fertiliser. This has allowed the Holdem’s to achieve plantain presence across 92% of their platform.

The Holdem’s have found plantain grows better in less fertile areas.

If you have areas of the farm that the fertiliser doesn’t get to very often, plantain grows really well there.

Steve Holdem, Farm Owner

Plantain management

Using plantain has been very simple and easy for the Holdem’s – “it just grows” Steve says. The Holdem’s haven’t had to make any changes to their farm system to manage the plantain, although it has required some patience.

Steve says farmers looking to incorporate plantain into their system need to have realistic expectations around establishing plantain, and its lifespan. Although they sometimes see spring-sown seed growing by the following autumn, the Holdem’s have found that it generally takes a full season to see the plantain after the seed is broadcasted.

“Be patient,” says Steve. “Don’t expect it to be there in six months. And it won’t be there forever, you have to keep topping it up every year or two.”

Steve and Paula's Rotorua farm

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Steve and Paula with their family

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Plantain growing on Steve and Paula's farm

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N-loss tool

Using plantain is an attractive N-loss mitigation tool for the Holdem’s when compared with the effects that reducing their herd by 200 cows would have on their business. They have reduced their N-loss by 12% in OverseerFM through using plantain, while increasing their milk production, achieving over 300,000 kg MS in the 2020/21 season.

Using plantain, we can maintain a higher stocking rate, higher production and higher profit. Without plantain, we would have to drop our stocking rate, with lower production and profit. That makes the $40 per hectare seed cost a good investment.

Steve Holdem, Farm Owner

Summer feed

Steve and Paula find that during the long summers, plantain is a reliable feed source on their farm and it consistently out-performs ryegrass in the right conditions. “Pastures with plantain are first to recover after a dry spell,” Steve says.

Last updated: Nov 2023
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