Flaws are found in a tool used for cleaning up waterways and preparing farm plans – but govt is on the case for improvements

Farm leaders are furious – with good cause – after a report by a panel of scientists found fault with the farm nutrient modelling system Overseer.

The panel cited “overarching structural problems” with the system, which has become one of the country’s main farm pollution-management tools, and concluded it could not be confident in Overseer’s ability to estimate nitrogen loss from farms.

Overseer  is a software tool developed in this country to measure farm nutrient dynamics.

It is used by councils all over New Zealand as the basis for granting consents, checking compliance and enforcement against farmers and for estimating on-farm greenhouse gas emissions.

The Overseer intellectual property is jointly owned by the Ministry of Primary Industries, the Fertiliser Association of NZ and AgResearch. The intellectual property is exclusively licensed to Overseer Ltd, which is owned by the Fertiliser Association of NZ and AgResearch.

Now that its usefulness for regulatory purposes and as a nutrient management tool has been undermined, there is an urgent need for a more credible tool to be developed – and the Ardern team is on the case.

Environment Minister David Parker and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor have acknowledged the science panel’s findings of shortcomings in Overseer nutrient management tool and say –

  • The government will support the development of a next generation Overseer alongside a suite of tools to help in the management and estimation of on-farm nutrient loss
  • Over the next year, Overseer will be supported while a next generation of the tool is developed and/or additional tools are made available
  • A more accurate way to estimate nutrient loss is important for farmers, the environment and brand New Zealand.

Their statement was one of three fresh ones posted on the Beehive website when Point of Order checked early this morning.

The others were –

  • Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti has invited the Governance and Administration select committee to consider improvements to the self-identification process in the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill.
  • Education Minister Chris Hipkins says early evidence suggests young people are less hungry, eating healthier food and have better physical and mental wellbeing since the introduction of the Ka Ora, Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches programme.

The report by the Government-appointed Science Advisory Panel was not the first to find flaws in the Overseer on-farm nutrient management model.

A few years ago the Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton, produced a report which examined Overseer’s purpose, design, history, evolution, and data availability

He found Overseer CAN do some things (such as estimate farm and block nitrogen losses from the root zone and phosphorus).

But his list of things which Overseer can’t do was much longer.

 He concluded that Overseer can be used in a regulatory context, subject to a raft of matters he recommended be remedied.

Overseer has been used to support regulation since 2005, he said.

If that was to continue,

“… important gaps and shortcomings in transparency, peer review, corroboration, uncertainty and sensitivity analysis, and model documentation must now be addressed to provide confidence to councils and farmers.”

He called for a comprehensive and well-resourced evaluation of Overseer to be undertaken.

Now we have the government-appointed science panel’s report, which reinforces his findings.

Parker and O’Connor said this report will help develop improved tools for farmers and regulators to meet future Essential Freshwater planning requirements.

“Despite its shortcomings Overseer has been a useful tool to build awareness and influence practices to manage nutrient loss at the farm and catchment level,” David Parker said.

“There is a robust body of independently peer-reviewed knowledge on nitrogen mitigation options that sits alongside Overseer.

“Farmers have used Overseer, alongside advice, to improve practices and freshwater outcomes.

“We encourage farmers to continue their vital efforts to reduce nutrient losses.”

The Ministers said they recognise the urgency of the work, given the 2024 deadline for Regional Councils to develop Resource Management Act plans under the Essential Freshwater reform package.

Latest from the Beehive

Gender

Simple self-identification one step closer

 Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti said she is inviting the Governance and Administration select committee to consider improvements to the self-identification process in the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill,  which had its second reading in Parliament yesterday.

­Self-identification was introduced to the Bill by the select committee in 2018 in response to a petition it received.

Minister Tinetti has proposed improvements to the self-identification process which the public can see in the Supplementary Order Paper.

The public will be able to make submissions and share their views on the Bill.

Environment

Work on improving tools to manage nutrient losses from farms

The Government will help develop improved tools to manage and estimate total on-farm nutrient loss.

The announcement by Environment Minister David Parker and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor comes after an independent Science Advisory Panel identified shortcomings with the current version of nutrient modelling software Overseer and concluded it did not have confidence in its ability to estimate nitrogen lost from farms in its current form.

Regional councils will continue to administer consents to manage freshwater at the farm level although some adjustments in the approach may be needed in some cases.

Over the coming months, officials will develop best-practice guidance for models used in environmental regulation and these will feed into approaches and tools in the longer term.

Schools

School lunches evaluation report finds the programme is working

Early evidence suggests young people are less hungry, eating healthier food and have better physical and mental wellbeing since the introduction of the Ka Ora, Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches programme, Education Minister Chris Hipkins says.

An evaluation of the pilot programme has been released. It is based on data from 38 schools and almost 2,700 students in two regions.

Changes were measured over the first 2-3 months of the pilot.

The report says the pilot showed:

  • ‘large benefits’ for all primary and intermediate learners in respect of the types of food available and consumed
  • ‘large gains’ in fullness for learners who previously had insufficient food and reported feeling full after lunch as a result of the programme
  • ‘large gains’ in mental wellbeing by the most disadvantaged learners
  • a reduction in the proportion of learners with low health quality of life
  • improvements for learners, on average, in terms of their overall heath quality of life, as well as in their physical and emotional functioning.

Planning for the evaluation of the expanded lunches programme is under way. This will seek to track the progress of larger numbers of the most disadvantaged learners, as well as the wider benefits of the programme, including to local economies. It will also seek to incorporate the voices of whānau, iwi, and the wider community.

There are now 875 schools with around 205,000 students receiving free and healthy lunches, and the programme is estimated to have generated around 1,980 jobs since its inception.

2 thoughts on “Flaws are found in a tool used for cleaning up waterways and preparing farm plans – but govt is on the case for improvements

  1. What! an fertiliser industry funded program allowed you to put on more fertiliser, what the hell. Industry participation has long been an issue this is great news.

    Like

    1. In my work here and overseas, it became obvious to me that the fact that our farmers cooperatively own most of the fertiliser industry is a source of environmental advantage to NZ. There is no incentive to over-fertilise, or to buy in fertiliser in preference to using farm wastes, animal bedding, etc. Neither to the farm, nor to the farmer owners of the coop. Farmers prefer, typically, to take profits on the farm, not in their co-op. This is not the case in other parts, where fertiliser suppliers have an obvious profit motive.
      There is therefore an incentive to get exactly the right amount, of the right fertilisers, to the right place in our pastures. Led by new technology, that is increasingly happening. Nobody gains when urea volatilises to the atmosphere or N runs off into our waterways, and huge efforts to minimise these outcomes are underway (and/or already implemented).

      Liked by 1 person

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