Thursday 5 July 2018

Nutrient Budgets and Farm Environment Plan Auditing

If you live within Canterbury, there is a good chance you have been tied up in the nutrient saga that has come to life in recent years. The environment is a hot topic at the moment and promises not to slow down anytime soon.

A common word bandied around rural communities is Overseer or nutrient budgets (Overseer being the program used to create a nutrient budget). Overseer is constantly being updated to reflect changes in software and science developments.  As I write this, we are currently using Overseer v6.3.0.

In Canterbury, a farm is required to have a baseline nutrient budget which covers the years of 2009 – 2013, which in conjunction with Farm Environment Plans (FEP) often forms the basis for any Land Use Consent to Farm (farming consent) that may be required and a current season nutrient budget using actual farm input data for the most recent season.

Farming consents set a Nitrogen Discharge Allowance (NDA) for a farm, and this figure is not to be exceeded. Farming consents are a way for ECan to draw a line in the sand and monitor nitrogen losses from properties or irrigation schemes to determine how nitrogen losses are tracking. Any farming consent requires auditing of a Farm Environment Plan to be completed within 12 months of granting, then after depending on the grade received (A grade – 3 yearly for an individual farm or 4 yearly for an irrigation scheme, B grade – 2 yearly, C grade – within 12 months, D grade – within 6 months). These audits are carried out by independent (non ECan employed) FEP Auditors who have to audit to  guidelines and templates set by ECan.

Part of the FEP audit includes a section on nutrients, and has two objectives;

                1. To use nutrients efficiently and minimise nutrient losses to water; and

                2. Nutrient losses do not exceed permitted or consented nitrogen limits

For us as auditors to determine this, we must be able to compare ‘apples with apples’ in terms of nutrient budgets. This requires the baseline nutrient budget to have been updated into the most recent version of Overseer (currently v6.3.0) and the most recent season end nutrient budget to have been completed in that same version.

If we are unable to determine if the farm is operating within its NDA, we cannot grade objective 2 very highly which could mean the difference between an A or B grade or a non-complying grade (C or D).

Therefore to ensure your FEP audit grade is not impacted, make sure your baseline nutrient budget has been updated to the most recent version of Overseer, and that you also have a nutrient budget that reflects the most recent season on the farm.

By Ben Howden, Irricon Resource Solutions
Phone 021 242 0023 or email