The Government is being called on to offer official guidance on how regional councils should use the nutrient measurement tool Overseer.
Previous versions of Overseer have all been free. However, the new OverseerFM, is “much more a product worthy of being charged for,” says Overseer Ltd chief executive Caroline Read.
The charge will generate income so the company can do more development more quickly and bring more mitigations into the model, she said.
OverseerFM has been available on free trial since June and has seen a steady uptake, with at least 1000 farmers already using it. A series of roadshow presentations introducing the software to users is now underway, and the $200 subscription will apply from mid-February.
“We’ve completely rebuilt the software now so it’s a very different user experience, much more user-friendly, and it also provides much better information about what the model is actually producing for your farm,” said Read.
Read explained that in previous versions, a user – often a consultant rather than a farmer – would run an analysis which only they could see. They would have to download the results if they wanted to share it with anyone else, and couldn’t run a trend analysis to see how it changed over time.
OverseerFM works on a central database in which each farm’s data is held in its own account. The account owner – the farmer – can decide who else can log in and see and analyse it. It is a much more collaborative system, said Read.
Different consultants with different specialities could come in and use the same data which the farmer had to provide only once, to model different scenarios.
“It’s going to save a lot of money on data entry and there’s a lot of efficiency gains in actually using a central system,” said Read.
“It’s really going to enable farmers to engage much more closely with nutrient modelling analysis of their farm whereas before they just left it up to the consultants to come back and tell them something. Now they can be much more involved in it.”
Federated Farmers environment spokesperson Chris Allen said OverseerFM looked like a big step up but still used the same models in the background. Much more investment was needed particularly if Overseer was to be used for regulation.
“Is it Overseer [the company] that needs to invest in that stuff or is it the Government or the regional councils who want to use Overseer in regulation? That’s why we’ve said the Government needs to step up and invest in this stuff.”
Feds were “really clear” that farmers did not want input controls imposed, said Allen.
“We also don’t want to spend ten grand every time you do an Overseer budget because you need all these experts to interpret the information, and tell you that basically what you’re doing is pretty much the same as what you did last year.”
Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton, has called for major changes to Overseer if it is to be used for regulatory purposes.
In a 136-page report released in December, Upton said Overseer should be independently peer-reviewed and analysed for sensitivity and uncertainty. He said regional councils needed to be aware of Overseer’s limitations and called on the Government to provide official guidance on how they should use it.
Read welcomed his report.
“What he’s come out with, which we’re really pleased with, is a set of clear recommendations that if you use Overseer in regulation then you need to do a few things differently,” she said.
“The report had a critical tone to it but the critical tone was more about the fact that the science model and decision support tool was being applied to regulatory processes without appropriate support.
“I think it’s important that we have much clearer guidance on how you would use Overseer information in a regulatory context so that modelled estimates are not being treated as absolute values.” Read noted that last year’s Budget allocated $5 million over four years to support Overseer development.
Come along and see
Overseer Ltd is partnering with the New Zealand Institute of Primary Industry Management (NZIPIM) in a series of meetings introducing OverseerFM to users.
Meetings were held in Hamilton and Christchurch before Christmas.
Between January 29 and February 8 another seven roadshow events are scheduled in centres from Whangarei to Invercargill. Full details are on the NZIPIM website.