Overseer review - how we have responded

Updated: 22 December 2021

Overseer is a tool to model nutrient losses from land. It's used in a variety of ways by regulators, auditors and farmers. The Government’s review indicated that Overseer in its current form should not be used as the only way to measure nutrient losses from farms.

With a view to the need to notify a new plan under the Essential Freshwater package by 2024, we needed to find a way to continue to administer our current planning framework until at least that time.

Auditors on farm

Our interim solution

We have been working with mana whenua and industry groups on an interim solution to the Overseer review. After a pause, we are now able to start consent processing and Farm Environment Plan auditing again.

We have not yet resumed consent processing or audits in far northern and far southern parts of the region, where discussions with the local Rūnanga have not concluded.  

We anticipate that these discussions will conclude in early 2022. We will contact affected landowners at the appropriate time.

If you are unsure, contact us on 0800 324 636.

How the interim solution applies to FEP audits

We have changed the way auditors determine compliance with a farm's Nitrogen Loss Limit (NLL).

The new approach puts more emphasis on change to the farming system and the likely impact of those changes on nitrogen losses to water.

As a result of this in many cases, farmers will no longer be required to have a current Overseer nutrient budget available for audit.

Auditors already have new guidance that they are working under.

  • Unless you use an Overseer nutrient budget for other farm management reasons, don’t book an Overseer budget before you have discussed the need for this with your auditor.
  • Discuss your situation with your auditor. Explain any on-farm changes that have been made since you received your consent or since your last audit.
  • Your auditor will advise you what additional information you may need to provide for your audit if there have been significant changes to your farming operation since consenting or your last audit.

Talk to your industry body, farming consultant or FEP auditor if you need support. Find a list of Environment Canterbury certified auditors.

Further information on FEP audits

If the new FEP auditing process applies to you, this information is relevant:

Contact us on 0800 324 636 or email fep.audit@ecan.govt.nz.

How the interim solution applies to consents

New consents will focus on a mixture of inputs on to and outputs from your farm.

If you are making a consent application, assess any existing nutrient budget you have.

Seek pre-application advice from us, particularly if you wish to intensify your land use.

Only consider intensification if you have evidence to show that what you’re proposing won’t lead to higher nitrogen loss from your farm. We would advise you against making changes to your consented farming systems without strong evidence that you will be able to meet your nitrogen loss limit.

We are likely to receive more consent applications than in the past. However, we are gearing up to meet this demand and are confident that we will continue to meet the statutory timeframes.

We’re obliged to consider each application individually under our statutory direction, but with the need to notify a new land and water plan by 2024, certainty may best be served by granting relatively short-term consents.

Frequently asked questions for farmers

Should I use Overseer now? What for?

You can use it if you’re being audited but bear in mind that it will be only one line of evidence that should be provided for your audit.

If you have changed your farm practices since the last time you were audited, an Overseer file may be required as one line of evidence.

Talk to your auditor to find out whether this applies to you.

In all cases, you can use an existing nutrient budget as a line of evidence. See also the next question.

Should I do a nutrient budget now? Why should I invest in one if it’s only one type of evidence?

You can do a new nutrient budget if you wish, but an existing one may be sufficient as a line of evidence for your FEP audit.

When you book in for an FEP audit, discuss your situation with your auditor and they will be able to decide whether in your particular situation an Overseer nutrient budget, or other sources of evidence, will be needed for the audit.

Note that nutrient budgets provide you, your rural professional and auditor with useful information about farming systems and how different management practices contribute to the farm’s overall nitrogen losses.

They also provide information to develop effective nitrogen loss mitigations which will help you meet your nitrogen loss targets and any required reductions.

What are the farm system categories?
Systems Description
Dairy 1 Tonnes DM/ha (Calculate feed eaten per ha, as per defined process)
Dairy support A mixture of crops and pasture grown for rearing of dairy replacements and/or wintering of milking cows
Sheep and beef A mixture of pasture and crops grown for breeding sheep, beef and/or deer, and could include a mixture of breeding and finishing
Stock finishing A mixture of pasture and crops grown for stock finishing
Deer A mixture of pasture and crops grown for deer breeding and/or finishing
Outdoor pigs Management of land for production of pigs
Other livestock Horses, camelids and other livestock categories
Cut and carry Production of a range of forage crops for use off paddock
Arable 1 A mixture of crops (small seed, cereals and/or vegetables) grown for harvest
Arable 2 A mixture of crops (small seed, cereals, pasture and/or vegetables) grown for harvest and stock grazing
Horticulture Fruit, nuts and/or vegetables grown for harvest
Viticulture Production of grapes grown for wine production
Other Description:
How do I know what farming category(ies) my farm falls into?

The system categories are broad and will usually be clear (see above table). There is a subdivision of dairy farms based on a calculation using easily identified inputs.

For more information on this methodology, discuss with your consultant, FEP auditor or dairy company.

How can the narrative system work, especially on a mixed farm?

The system categories are broad. We will therefore use a single system category if possible (for example, arable with stock compared with arable without stock), but where there are clear distinctions between systems on a single farm, these can be defined separately if required.

What should I do differently to prepare for my first audit?

Read the guidance from Environment Canterbury that came with your new FEP audit due date notification.

Book in with your FEP auditor early to ensure all necessary information can be prepared for your FEP audit.

Discuss your situation with your auditor and explain any farm system changes that have been made since you received your consent or since your last FEP audit.

Your FEP auditor will advise you on what additional information you may need to provide for your FEP audit if there have been significant changes to your farming system since consenting or your last audit.

Each situation is different. Therefore it is important to talk to your auditor so they understand the farm and any system changes.

What should I do differently to prepare for my subsequent audit?

Unless you use an Overseer nutrient budget for other farm management reasons, don’t create an Overseer budget before you have discussed your situation with your FEP auditor.

Access any existing nutrient budget. If you are changing your farm practices, an Overseer file may be required as a line of evidence. Talk to your auditor about this.

What should I do differently if I want to lodge a consent application?

Access any existing nutrient budget. Seek pre-application advice from us. Note that new consents will focus on a mixture of inputs on to and outputs from your farm.

Will processing my consent be more expensive?

Generally not, unless you are seeking to intensify your land use. Seek pre-application advice from us.

How long will it take to process my consent application?

We are likely to receive more consent applications than in the past. However, we are gearing up to meet this demand and are confident that we will continue to meet the statutory timeframes.

Am I likely to get a short-term consent only? Why?

We’re obliged to consider each application individually under our statutory direction, but with the need to notify a new plan by 2024, certainty may best be served by granting relatively short-term consents.

I want to change my farm practices – what should I do?

Talk to us, particularly if you believe that what you are proposing may lead or amount to land use intensification.

Why has consent processing and Farm Environment Plan auditing started again in some areas but not others?

In developing the interim solution, we undertook to engage with mana whenua. Conversations have concluded with two of the four Tangata Whenua Advisory Service agencies but are ongoing with the other two.

We have therefore restarted consents processing and FEP auditing in all areas of Canterbury except Kaikōura, Waihao and Moeraki.

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