AgResearch answers critics with $5m spend

Five-year programme of improvements planned

AgResearch will spend $1 million a year for the next five years to add scientific improvements in agriculture to its key Overseer program.

Earlier this year, AgResearch said an upgrade to the software solution would enable farmers to accurately estimate their greenhouse gas emissions and help New Zealand comply with its obligations under the Kyoto protocol.

However, questions have been raised in the farming community about its relevance to the emissions trading scheme. It has been suggested that Overseer doesn’t take into account differentials such as the variables between hill country farms and flat pasture farms.

The Overseer Nutrient Budget Model was developed late in the 1990s to allow farmers to examine the impact and efficiency of nutrient use and flows within a farm as well as potential environmental impacts.

The software is jointly funded by MAF, AgResearch and FertResearch, and operated by AgResearch.

AgResearch’s head of the Overseer development team, Dr Mark Shepherd, says issues such as the type of farm are built into the model.

“It’s not an issue,” he says, adding there is some misunderstanding about the model.

“We’ve got a five-year programme of improvements, using the available science as it happens.

“We will spend $1 million a year and review the program on an annual basis. The owners recognise the importance of using Overseer correctly.”

To that end, AgResearch is working to improve the documentation and is re-developing the user manual, which hasn’t been updated since 2003.

“We’re also having a number of meetings to formulate training.”

The main users are farm advisors and industry sectors such as the fertiliser industry, though “anyone can use it”. All have different priorities.

“We’re looking at the architecture of the model,” Shepherd says. “It’s getting complicated. Does it need to change?”

A “wide range” of scientists contributed to the original model, he says.

“A lot of science and information needed bringing together.”

Shepherd says there is also export potential for Overseer.

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