1001.0 - Australian Bureau of Statistics -- Annual Report, 2014-15  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/10/2015   
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SPECIAL ARTICLE

THE NATIONAL AGRICULTURAL STATISTICS REVIEW - A FRAMEWORK FOR THE FUTURE OF AGRICULTURAL DATA

Australia's agricultural activities vary from extensive pastoral and cropping activities, to intensive livestock and horticultural production. Agriculture utilises a large proportion of Australia's natural resources including, in 2012-13, 52% of Australia's total land area and 65% of the nation's water use.

Agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries make a significant contribution to Australia's society and economy, employing over 300,000 people and producing $45 billion worth of exports in 2014.

The effectiveness of all sectors of the agricultural industry is enhanced by having access to timely, high quality statistics for a range of needs, from planning and policy making to economic forecasting and industry promotion. Starting in 2013-14, the National Agricultural Statistics Review (NASR) was a joint project between the ABS and the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) to improve Australia's system of agricultural statistics and develop a framework for ongoing assessment, coordination and governance of information needs into the future.

PROJECT DRIVERS

The review set out to: identify the priority information needs of stakeholders; find unmet needs; and identify inconsistencies as well as opportunities for improvements to Australia's agricultural statistics. The final report was published in July 2015.

The NASR was initiated by ABS and ABARES to build on outcomes of recent internal program reviews by both agencies, including the Essential Statistical Assets for Australia review that was released by the ABS in 2015 in Essential Statistical Assets for Australia, 2014 (cat. no. 1395.0).

The agricultural statistics review aimed to identify opportunities to improve Australia's agricultural statistics system and develop a framework for the ongoing assessment, coordination and governance of statistical information needs.

The National Agricultural Statistics Review covered:

  • ABS censuses and surveys
  • ABARES farm, fisheries and forestry surveys
  • commissioned research and reports containing statistics
  • administrative data holdings
  • other datasets residing in any agency's databases.
OUTCOMES

A key concern identified by stakeholders during the NASR project was the burden that survey activity places on respondents, particularly farmers, who take on this load in addition to a range of other regulatory and administrative requirements.

Farmers may receive multiple survey forms from a number of different organisations, with limited time to respond. Not only is this inefficient for farmers, it can impact on the survey quality as increased reporting burden can lead to increased disengagement from survey activity. This may result in lower response rates which impacts on the quality and usefulness of the statistics. The lack of quality data can then lead various agricultural organisations to undertake extra survey activity to fill the quality gap, further increasing the burden on farmers.

There was also a range of concerns identified in relation to the quality of statistics in the Australian agricultural statistical system, particularly accuracy and timeliness.

One of the main outcomes of the review was the Enduring Goals for Australian Agriculture Framework. These goals cover the economic, social and environmental aspects of Australian agriculture and they are designed to be stable - subject to minimal change - over the next twenty plus years.

The five goals for the agriculture statistics framework are:
  • competitive and profitable agriculture sector
  • prosperous communities
  • sustainable natural resource use
  • growing trade and market access
  • protecting animal, plant and human health and welfare.
FUTURE OPPORTUNITIES

A range of opportunities and innovations were identified in the review consultation, including:
  • expanded use of electronic data collection (web forms) to improve the quality, speed and efficiency of data collection and improve the respondent experience
  • greater use of administrative data to reduce reliance on direct collection and potentially improve the accuracy and timeliness of the statistics produced
  • the use of statistical data integration to draw greater value out of existing sources and inform the social, environmental and economic aspects of agriculture
  • implementing a 'one-stop-shop' for agricultural statistics to improve discoverability and accessibility
  • better defining the roles and responsibilities of respective stakeholders within the system, including ABS and ABARES, and the roles of government compared to industry, to improve coordination and governance.

THE NEXT STEPS FOR AUSTRALIA'S AGRICULTURAL SYSTEM

Overall, the review has been an extensive assessment of Australia’s agricultural statistical system, working with stakeholders across all sectors to identify the core information needs of Australia's agricultural industry, and assessing the ability of the system to meet these needs.

In undertaking the review, both ABS and ABARES gained an improved understanding of the statistics that each agency produces, respective processes and methods, and their roles in contributing to the Australian agricultural statistical system.

The research into current best practice in agricultural statistical systems has identified opportunities for establishing a modern, adaptive and responsive agricultural statistical system for Australia's future.

ABS and ABARES are now well-placed to lead the system towards this future vision. Both agencies will continue their collaboration, building on the findings of the review and further improving the collaborative relationships built with agricultural data stakeholders.

The ABS will work with ABARES and other stakeholders across the agriculture statistical system to address the issues identified through the NASR for the 2015-16 Agricultural Census.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The ABS acknowledges the input of the 40-plus government and industry organisations that participated in the review forums, as well as the ongoing support of ABARES in conducting this review.

'Three key outcomes from the review are the definition of the enduring goals as a conceptual framework, the paradigm shift of going to administrative data as a first port of call, and the focus on increased utilisation of technologies through the statistical cycle. In addition, the enthusiasm for much greater collaboration and coordination not only between ABS-ABARES but with the wider industry stakeholder group will lead to better outcomes for the system and its users.'

Dr John Sims, Senior Principal Scientist, ABARES, Department of Agriculture