Review panel appointed as Overseer improvements continue

Eight independent experts have been appointed to lead a technical review of the Overseer environmental modelling software, the ministries for the environment and primary industries announced today.

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.

“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 Ministry for the Environment 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 New Zealand’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 30 March 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 Ministry for Primary Industries 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 Ms Fairhall.

In addition, funding has been allocated to extend the coverage of S-Map across New Zealand. S-Map is a digital soil map for New Zealand 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 Ms Fairhall.

“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.

Science Advisory Panel members

The Science Advisory Panel comprises these eight members. –

• Chair: Dr Ian Johnson – agricultural modeller (Australia)
• Dave Clark – dairy industry and research consultant
• Dr Brent Clothier – principal scientist at Plant and Food Research
• Dr Donna Giltrap – research priority area leader for Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Mitigations at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research
• Dr Clint Rissmann – founder and director of Land and Water Science Ltd
• Dr Nick Roskruge – Atiawa ki Taranaki, Ngāti Tama-ariki and associate professor in horticulture at Massey University
• Dr Peter Thorburn – chief research scientist and research group leader at the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (Australia)
• Dr Robin White – associate professor of Integrated Beef Systems Management, Virginia Tech (USA).

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.

Panel biographies

Dr Ian Johnson is a mathematician with experience in developing and writing biophysical computer simulation models incorporating environmental physics, plant, crop and pasture growth, soil hydrology, soil organic matter and nutrient dynamics, and animal growth and metabolism.

Early in his career he was with the Biomathematics Department at the Grassland Research Institute in the UK and then the Department of Agronomy and Soil Science at the University of New England in Armidale, NSW. More recently, as director of IMJ Consultants, he has developed models in collaboration with universities and industry bodies in Australia and New Zealand.

He is widely published in the scientific literature, including as co-author of the textbook Plant and Crop Modelling (Thornley and Johnson, 1990, 2000).

Dave Clark is a dairy industry and research consultant. Between 1991 and 2013, he was Principal Scientist at the Dairying Research Corporation/Dexcel/DairyNZ. His research during that time looked at the intersection of farm economics and environmental impact, and was underpinned by a philosophy that environmental protection and profitable dairy farming are not mutually exclusive.

In 2009 he was awarded the New Zealand Grassland Trust – Ray Brougham Trophy for services to New Zealand farming systems. He carried out mainly hill country research when he worked at Grassland Division, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in the early stage of his career.

Dr Brent Clothier, Principal Scientist with Plant & Food Research, has extensive experience in soil science, especially with the measurement and modelling of water and solute movement in soil. He has published more than 300 peer-reviewed publications.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society Te Apārangi in 1994, and was the President of the New Zealand Society of Soil Science from 2008 to 2010. He is an Academician (Foreign) of the Chinese Academy of Engineering (Agriculture Division).

Dr Donna Giltrap  is Research Priority Area Leader for Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Emissions and Mitigation at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research. Dr Giltrap is a modeller with a background in physics and mathematics. Her PhD is in physics and she  holds a Graduate Diploma in Applied Statistics.

She was part of the team that reviewed the nitrous oxide component of Overseer in 2018. She is a member of the New Zealand Soil Science Society.

Dr Clint Rissman is the founder and Director of Land and Water Science Limited. He is also a Senior Adjunct Fellow in the Waterways Centre for Freshwater Management – a partnership between the University of Canterbury and Lincoln University. He has more than 10 years’ experience in earth systems science, specialising in water quality, biogeochemistry, greenhouse gases and systems thinking. He has co-authored a number of peer-reviewed publications researching soil and water quality in New Zealand.

He is a leading proponent of the physiographic approach which involves understanding water quality outcomes based on an integrated understanding of landscape properties.

Dr Nick Roskruge is of Atiawa ki Taranaki and Ngāti Tama-ariki descent. He is Associate Professor in Horticulture at Massey University and since 2003 has been Chairperson of Tāhuri Whenua, which represents Māori interests in the horticulture sector

He is a member of the Māori Advisory Board for Resilience to Nature’s Challenges – a National Science Challenge – and is also a member of the HSNO Committee of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). Previously he was Chair of Ngā Kaihautū Tikanga Taiao, the EPA’s Māori advisory committee.

He holds a PhD in soil science with his doctoral thesis looking at Māori land development through traditional knowledge, and the soil and horticultural sciences. He has had sabbatical periods in Peru and Chile, where he worked on crop genetics and indigenous systems projects.

He was the 2013 recipient of a Fullbright Scholarship, undertaken at Cornell University (USA).

Dr Peter Thorburn is a Chief Research Scientist and Research Group Leader in the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Queensland. He is responsible for agricultural systems research and is internationally recognised for his expertise in crop systems modelling.

He represents CSIRO on the Agricultural Production Systems Simulator initiative, which owns the APSIM advanced farming systems model, and is co-lead for crop modelling in the international AgMIP program. He has extensive experience in scientific advisory groups, including as a member of groups on managing water quality in Great Barrier Reef catchments and reviewing or advising on Overseer in 2012 and between 2014 and 2017.

Dr Robin White is Assistant Professor of Integrated Beef Systems Management at Virginia Tech in the United States. She is a member of the American Dairy Science Association, an editor for the Farm Systems Analysis and Economics and Resources and Environment sections of the Journal of Dairy Science, and an Editorial Board member of the Journal of Animal Science.

Her research focuses on leveraging data analysis and animal nutrition to enhance the sustainability of food production systems. She graduated from Washington State University as a Doctor of Philosophy in Animal Sciences.

Source:  Ministry for Primary Industries

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog

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