Debate on the value of Overseer, the software tool designed to measure and regulate nutrient loss from farms, continues to rage.
Craigmore Sustainables is a New Zealand-owned and controlled farming company.
It includes 22 dairy farms, located from North Canterbury to North Otago, and a sheep and beef farm in Middlemarch. The company has a sustainability programme in place at each of its farms, horticulture and forestry operations. It believes using OverseerFM helps to plan farm management changes that balance respecting the environment with running sustainable and profitable rural businesses.
Caroline Amyes, a business support manager for Craigmore, says the company has been using Overseer since 2013. One use is to model the impacts ahead of farm management approaches or land use change.
“When we are going to do a farming system change, we will also use it to do a forecast farm analysis to see what impact the changes would have,” she says. “It adds real value in terms of forward planning.”
Amyes says Craigmore’s focus is on positive and sustainable land use change, underpinned by sustainable operational excellence – ensuring optimal use for the right land.
This includes reducing nutrient loss with the conversion of annual cropping and dairy land to permanent crop and using advanced techniques and systems, including smart irrigation, unique systems of runoff catchment ponds that recycle water into the irrigation system and significant riparian planting.
“Many of our farms are organised into ‘pods’ of four or five farms. Each farm has a manager and each pod also has a manager,” she explains. “The managers or pod managers work with environmental consultants to use OverseerFM to develop the nutrient budget for each farm.”
Amyes says their role is to understand that information and use it to ensure every farm is within its nutrient limits.
“Our ethos is that we farm in a sustainable manner with a focus on making a long-term positive impact. That is important to our investors and all of this information is also available to them.”
She adds that it is vital to ensure information entered into Overseer is accurate. “We recently had one farm where the nutrient leaching came up as being above our allocated budget. But it was due to data around irrigation use not being entered correctly. Once that was corrected, it brought it back in line.”
Farm manager and former pod manager, Francois Tillard, joined Craigmore in 2014 and had previously been using Overseer for some years on his own farm.
“The software has improved a lot over the years,” he says. “I work with our agricultural consultant to produce the nutrient budgets and appreciate working with someone who understands it really well. We are on rolling land so nitrogen leaching is not too much of a problem for us but we have to keep an eye on phosphorus.”
Tillard also sees the value of Overseer growing in future in terms of managing GHG emissions.
“That is going to be one of the biggest issues for farming going forward.”
Amyes agrees and is pleased that OverseerFM includes GHG emissions. She says while the company is not using that data yet, it is still good to know where they are sitting now.
“We have seen Overseer evolve and it is a lot simpler to use. The reports are easy to extract and more readable.”