Obtaining user/stakeholder views on the priorities reflected in the draft survey program for the period ahead is a key objective. These views will be important for firming up the program and in determining directions for its further development and funding.
The ABS is actively engaged with many Australian and state/territory government agencies and non-government users of agriculture/NRM data to determine needs and key priorities. The draft survey program reflects the views and priorities that have been expressed in consultations to date. It recognises that if no additional funding is made available to the ABS some surveys will have to be conducted less frequently in future to accommodate the introduction of important new survey topics, such as climate change related information priorities. Other surveys will need to be redeveloped to reflect changing priorities within particular subject fields or to include modules on other key measures on different subject fields (eg the adaptability of farming communities).
There are many organisations which run or commission statistical collections on agriculture including the ABARE, DAFF, BRS, the Murray-Darling Basin Commission (MDBC), state and territory agriculture and environment agencies, and industry based organisations such as Goulburn Murray Water (GMW), Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), and the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation. A listing of the collections undertaken by the various government agencies and organisations is presented as Appendix 1.
KEY DATA ITEMS
Users of agricultural statistics have consistently identified a number of key data items required to monitor key issues about which they require statistical information. A perceived 'ideal' information set, based on the identified needs of key users of agricultural statistics, has been identified (Appendix 2).
On examination of the 'ideal' data set, some fundamental statistical requirements are evident:
DATA TO INFORM POLICY
- Industry policy analysis ideally requires data at the regional level. This is because policies need to be developed for and targeted to specific regions, as issues are often quite different between different regions. The region varies between SLA to NRM.
- NRM policy analysis ideally requires data at the finest geographic level (geocoded data) which will enable data to be published at various client defined regions. This is necessary so that policy makers can obtain data about an area relevant to a particular issue, such as a water catchment, a riparian zone, or an area of specific vegetation or soil type.
- Both industry and NRM policy analysis requires data annually or less frequently, as the fundamental parameters being measured tend not to change rapidly.
- Industry and NRM policy analysis ideally requires data at the 4 digit industry level.
- Market access issues, and macro level statistics generally require data at the State or National level, with much of it ideally required on a quarterly basis.
Statistics are required to guide the development and monitoring of national and state government policies. These policies include those associated with agricultural industry development (including rural adjustment and assistance), access to international markets, food safety and industry bio-security, and the sustainable use of land and water resources. As national and state policy makers grapple with food safety, industry development and environmental issues, they want to know more about how their policies affect the economic and social well-being of farms and rural households. More importantly, they desire knowledge about the structure and geographic distribution of agriculture, so that policy can be directed to the relevant sub-sectors or geographic regions as required.
It is very important that data can be integrated, so that the relationships between farm management practices, production levels and financial performance can be examined, providing for informed decisions on future policies designed to influence these factors.
For NRM policies, a shift has occurred from source-oriented to effect-oriented land/natural resource management policy. The policies have moved beyond the delivery of product type outputs and now the policies commit to address specific land management issues or problems. This has meant that organisations have had to revisit the way they measure success. When delivering product type outputs this is usually based around input based indicators (eg kilometres of fencing, number of trees planted). However, to be able to evaluate the current effect-oriented policy requires the assessment of resource condition and intermediate progress toward achieving this resource condition. The current agriculture survey program needs to be reformed so as to be able to provide stakeholders with information on the actual outcomes arising from Australian Government investment in agriculture/rural communities and NRM.
Users continually identify the five main things they would like in addition to the existing ABS agriculture statistics:
- improved natural resource management data;
- improved financial data;
- improved small area data based on geography that does not have the limitations that 'SLA as the basic building block' provides (eg use of G-NAF and mesh blocks);
- the capacity to link data between the main agricultural statistics vehicles and other sources of data; and
- social/demographic data about farming communities
The issue of improved natural resource management data was the subject of a separate review. The other four issues are also currently being explored.