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Providing certainty for farmers in the Lake Taupo catchment

Waikato Regional Council has been using Overseer since 2006 as part of a world-leading project to protect the water quality of Lake Taupo.

As part of its Waikato Regional Plan, the project sets individual caps for nitrogen loss and monitors how that is being managed on the 86 farms in the catchment.

The initiatives were community-driven due to rising concerns that water quality in the lake may worsen. Overseer is also used in the region’s nitrogen trading scheme, managed by the Lake Taupo Protection Trust.

The advanced online software, designed specifically for farmers and their advisors, analyses the flow of nutrients through a farm based on the management practices applied.

This produces annual budgets for seven key farm nutrients, as well as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reports.

OverseerFM can be used to model the impacts of land-use changes as well as changes in farm management approach.

It can help farmers to understand their current situation, as well as model changes in farm management approach and assess whether their plans will achieve compliance and meet environmental standards.

The council monitors six dairy farms and 80 sheep and beef or sheep, beef and deer farms in the catchment. Farmers either use Overseer themselves or the council uses it on their behalf.

Jon Palmer, a senior Technical advisor for the council, says that the best use of Overseer is as a decision-making tool.

“We use it in that way, so farmers can compare what they were doing with what they are doing now.

“When we first started this, farmers were not confident about how we would be using Overseer, but these days we have a healthy working relationship with farmers.

“They have a very good understanding around how we use it comparatively – and they use it to make decisions about how they are going to farm year on year.”

For those new to Overseer, Jon advises not to; “get hung up on the absolute numbers concept.

“There is a margin of error, because it is a model, but used in the right way as a decision-support tool, it is a very efficient tool to help with making decisions and tracking changes on farm.

“If you want to make changes on farm, you can use Overseer to get an idea of how those changes affect nutrient losses.

“One of the good outcomes of the Taupo rules is that farmers have certainty and that is not always the case in other parts of the country.”

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