by Gerald Hutching, 7 August 2015
Nutrient-budgeting programme Overseer has been given a funding boost of $750,000 and been revamped.

The 15-year-old farming tool will be run by a not-for-profit company and its annual budget is now $2.25 million.Overseer is jointly owned by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), the Fertiliser Association of New Zealand (FANZ) and AgResearch Limited.The chief executives of the owner organisations said users would see improvements in customer services (including improving the help desk), as well as the model’s maintenance and development.

A formal quality assurance programme will be established and critical maintenance and testing work on the model accelerated.The programme is playing an important role in regional plans and environment court hearings in relation to nutrient limit setting and compliance monitoring.

Mike Manning, Ravensdown general manager innovation and strategy, agreed that new uses for Overseer had led to the changes. While some have criticised the way it is used, Manning said it was “better than the alternative”.

“While it wasn’t designed to be used in regulation, I’m pleased it’s used in that role because the alternative is pretty ugly. The Europeans limit inputs and nutrients going into the farm, which is a very blunt instrument which stifles innovation,” Manning said.

MPI director of resource policy David Wansborough said while Overseer was not designed to be a regulatory tool, it was the best available and it was in some way a victim of its own success.

It can be used to make sure we put the right amount of fertiliser on and from a farmer point of view there’s no sense in the important parts running off the farm,” Wansborough said.

He cautioned that it was easy to assume that one Overseer number gave the answer as to whether a farm was under or over its nutrient limits, but that was “too simplistic”.

The programme now has a fulltime general manager and the new company would manage, develop and license the software.

Farmers can download the software for free but are charged if they use an Overseer specialist to carry out a nutrient budgeting plan.