Specialists appointed to review Overseer

Eight independent experts have been appointed to lead a technical review of the Overseer environmental modelling software, according to the Ministries for the Environment and Primary Industries.

The Overseer work is a major part of efforts to improve decision-making tools for use on-farm. Panel members were selected based on their depth of knowledge and their collective range of skills and perspectives, says MFE in its announcement on March 11.

“The eight independent and internationally-recognised environmental specialists will look ‘under the bonnet’ of Overseer to critically assess its modelling capability and explore potential improvements for its use,” says MFE deputy secretary – water and climate change, Cheryl Barnes.

“The panel’s conclusions and assessments will be critical to New Zealand’s future approach to land management. We must be confident that Overseer is the right tool to drive sound land management decisions and improve freshwater quality.”

The group was selected after a rigorous process involving NZ’s chief science adviser Juliet Gerrard, and the chief scientists from the two ministries.

The review consists of two parts. The first will be an assessment of whether Overseer’s modelling approach is fit to use as a decision-making and regulatory tool and, if so, which aspects should be subject to a more in-depth review. Its inaugural meeting is on March 30 and its report back on this part is expected in late-2020. The review’s second part is dependent on these findings, and would take place over a year.

Related work to build knowledge to strengthen Overseer is also commencing, says MPI acting deputy director-general – policy and trade, Ruth Fairhall.

An additional $4 million per year has been allocated to a new contestable fund to commission longer-term research to develop and evaluate new technologies and systems to improve freshwater quality.

“More knowledge about different farming and growing technologies will enable us to fine-tune environmental models including Overseer to more accurately calculate potential impacts of different land management practices,” says Ruth.

In addition, funding has been allocated to extend the coverage of S-Map across New Zealand. S-Map is a digital soil map for NZ that collates a range of data and information. Produced by Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research, S-Map is one of the underlying databases that Overseer draws on and is used by regional councils in environmental modelling.

“We want to support farmers and growers to have greater confidence in their decision-making,” says Ruth.

“The collaboration between government and industry, combined with leading-edge science, will ensure environmental models can be applied at the grassroots level for better freshwater management decisions.”

Plans to review and improve Overseer predate and complement recommendations of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment to ensure Overseer is suitable as a regulatory tool.

The Science Advisory Panel’s eight members are: Australian agricultural modeller Dr Ian Johnson, who is the panel chair; dairy industry and research consultant Dave Clark; Plant and Food Research principal scientist Dr Brent Clothier; Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research’s research priority area leader for agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and mitigations Dr Donna Giltrap; Land and Water Science Ltd founder and director Dr Clint Rissmann; Massey University associate professor in horticulture, Atiawa ki Taranaki, Ngati Tama-ariki, Dr Nick Roskruge; Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia, chief research scientist and research group leader Dr Peter Thorburn; and Integrated Beef Systems Management, Virginia Tech (USA) associate professor Dr Robin White.

Overseer is a management tool that supports farmers and growers to improve performance and reduce losses to the environment through better use of nutrients on-farm.


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