Smart Soil: “Overseer” Software Give Farmers Feedback on Practices

Exciting news in the field of environmental sciences: software developed in the early 1990s, which has been dubbed “Overseer,” is “a mathematical interpretation of a biological system, and is a tool to manage nutrients and report on nutrient losses” according to Dr. Ants Roberts, one of the creation architects of the technology.

In Canterbury [New Zealand] alone there are about 16,000 farmers – from big corporate to lifestyle-block owners – and all are required to have a nutrient budget. Will the industry have them compliant by 2017, as ECan’s Land and Water Regional Plan requires?

The software, which tracks the health of agricultural soil by noting nitrogen losses and provides farmers with a picture of how much fertilizer is being used vs. how much is wasted, is currently free to farmers in New Zealand. This software benefits farmers and environmentalists alike in reducing instances of over-fertilization and keeping tabs on soil health. The technology for this has come a long way. Development began in the 1990s and it is currently in its sixth version–a process of development which has cost the government and fertilizer industries $15 billion.

However, the Overseer technology still has a ways to go before it’s perfected. Dr Roberts says “Overseer can handle complex cropping rotations and stock mixes. More money is needed to improve it to cope with some irrigated scenarios. The software requires annual rainfall figures as it takes a long-term view – the amount of irrigation needs to match rainfall inputs, otherwise Overseer may overestimate drainage and nitrogen loss.”

This technology really seems to have potential–I just hope a balance can be struck between the money that was put into developing it and the use we can get out of it.

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