Monday, 25 May 2020 10:21

Tick of approval for OverseerFM

Written by  Staff Reporters
Cameron Henderson. Cameron Henderson.

North Canterbury farmer Cameron Henderson says he looks at OverseerFM as an ‘environmental accounting system’.

“Many people find a farm accounting system daunting at first but once you have found your way around the software, it is easy to use. 

“Similarly, you can use an accountant to complete your tax accounts but the real value is to look at it in detail yourself, try some scenarios and see where you can make gains.”

Henderson farms 430ha in Oxford, North Canterbury - 230ha is his family farm and the rest is a leased support farm. 

He previously spent a year working for DairyNZ and is provincial president of Federated Farmers and vice chairman of the Waimakariri Water Zone committee. 

“I have been involved with the process of setting the path forward for setting nutrient limits and improving water quality in the district. 

“I started using Overseer because as we came to recognise that a lot of change would be required, I wanted to understand from our own farm perspective where we sat in terms of nutrient leaching.”

OverseerFM analyses the flow of nutrients through a farm, based on the management practices applied. This produces annual budgets for seven key farm nutrients, as well as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reports. 

Henderson built his first model for the farm, working with a certified nutrient management consultant, but now updates that every year, before working with the consultant to take into account any changes in OverseerFM and to sign off the final version.

“To use the accounting analogy again, you will get better results from working with your farm business accountant if you dive into the detail yourself and the same goes for OverseerFM,” he says. 

“I was very interested in nutrient losses and the impact on the regulatory side and wanted to build scenarios about what our farm system options might be within the ‘consent to farm’ nutrient consenting in Canterbury.

“We built the original model using an older version of Overseer, to understand the rules and regulations and what we could model in it. 

“We ended up four years ago with a very successful Land Use Consent from Environment Canterbury that has been a real asset for us. From there, I have used OverseerFM every year to make sure the farm still falls within the consent limits.”

OverseerFM can be used to model the impacts of land-use changes as well as changes in farm management approach. It can help farmers to understand their current situation and assess the changes they can make to achieve compliance and meet environmental standards. 

“We also use it to model scenarios when we are making changes on farm,” says Henderson. 

“For instance, we planted 7ha in pine last year, retiring it from dairy. We used OverseerFM to model what effect that would have first.

“We winter our own herd and neighbour’s herd on our support farm, and OverseerFM enables us to work out how many cows can go on there and for how long we can graze. We will also be using it as we work to reduce fertiliser rates.”

Henderson sees the GHG emissions report function becoming increasingly valuable to farmers. The farm is part of Synlait’s Lead with Pride programme and one of the company’s goals is to achieve a 50% reduction on total GHG per kilo of milk solids by 2028. 

“As part of that, we will get greenhouse gas targets for the farm,” he says. 

“Our farm will be benchmarked against the Canterbury average in OverseerFM and we can start to see how we stack up against similar operations. Going forward, Synlait is also in the process of developing GHG mitigation tools and Overseer is at the centre of that.”

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