Thursday, 26 August 2021 07:55

Editorial: Upton was right

Written by  Staff Reporters
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton. Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton.

OPINION: The infallibility of Overseer – the tool farmers have been required to use to measure nutrient loss – has come crashing down following a report by a special science advisory panel.

The panel managed to get access to the base data that supports this software model, which is owned jointly by MPI, AgResearch and the Fertiliser Association of NZ.

For a long time, farmers and many others have been questioning the veracity of Overseer. Horticulturalists in particular have pleaded with councils and the courts that the tool does not suit their needs. Their pleas have been ignored.

Credit must go to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton, who in 2018 conducted his own review into Overseer. He didn’t have the benefit of the data the science advisory panel had this time, but clearly saw the weaknesses in Overseer and drew it to the attention of the Government and the public.

There is no doubt that Overseer is a useful tool, but clearly its scientific value has been over-estimated by all and sundry. The company which owns it says Overseer still says it is doing what it is designed to do. The answer to that is probably yes – it helps some farmers estimate nutrient loss – but to use it as a legal tool is a bridge too far.

Farmers rightly argue that they have spent millions of dollars trying to stop Overseer being used as a regulatory tool and have got nowhere. They should rightly feel aggrieved.

But the problems don’t end there. What are the alternatives? Will an upgraded Overseer be ready in time to legally monitor the essential freshwater reforms? Will the Government revert to putting in rules such as the EU has, which are input rather than outcome-based?

The report, which is excellent, has now just added to the uncertainty that farmers and councils face in trying to implement all the changes in the pipeline.

Will we see legal challenges to Horizons’ One Plan and how will the courts now deal with future plans? It seems that, for the moment at least, Overseer’s days as a regulatory tool are over.

Thank you Simon Upton for your persistence!

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