7100.1 - Agricultural Census: Nature and Content, 2015-16  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 02/02/2016  First Issue
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The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is preparing for the 2015-16 Agricultural Census. This information paper outlines the content (pending successful testing of questions and concepts) of the Agricultural Census, following the public consultation process initiated with the release of the discussion paper Agricultural Census: Consultation on Content, 2015-16 (cat.no. 7100.0) in July 2015. The paper also contains information regarding other procedural and methodological changes the ABS will be making in order to address the findings of the National Agricultural Statistics Review (NASR) and support the goals of the ABS Transformation Program.

The Agricultural Census is one of the largest statistical collections undertaken by the ABS and provides a range of information to inform decision-making on Australia’s agricultural industry, including data on the area and production of key agricultural commodities, and information on water and land use. This information supports policy and planning by Commonwealth and state and territory governments, industry bodies, research organisations and the farming community through:

    • informing the development and monitoring of policies relating to agriculture and associated natural resource management and land use issues;
    • informing decision-making for those involved in producing, supplying, marketing and trading agricultural commodities;
    • enabling the monitoring of economic and social issues affecting rural communities;
    • supporting national and international reporting requirements; and
    • determining the contribution of agriculture to the national economy through the National Accounts.
The Agricultural Census has been conducted by the ABS every five years and collects data from businesses across a variety of agricultural industries in Australia. The Agricultural Census is currently the key vehicle through which the ABS produces agricultural data for regional geographies and a wide range of agricultural industries. It provides benchmark data to support the agricultural statistical programs of both ABS and the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), including through the maintenance of a high quality frame of agricultural businesses.

The Agricultural Census contributes to the broader agricultural statistical system in Australia, which also includes statistics and data produced by ABARES and a variety of stakeholders across the government, industry and research sectors. This system of agricultural statistics users and producers was the subject of a joint review by ABS and ABARES, the National Agricultural Statistics Review (NASR).

The NASR was undertaken over 2013 and 2014 to assess the agricultural statistical system in Australia and its adequacy for informing decision-making, planning and policy making, both now and into the future. Through the NASR process, consultation occurred with stakeholders across government, industry, and the research sector and identified a number of areas for improvement. These included concerns relating to the need to improve data quality, reduce respondent burden, improve coordination and governance across the system, improve the coherence and availability of statistical infrastructure and address data gaps.

The NASR identified a range of opportunities for ABS and ABARES, in collaboration with other statistical users and producers across the system, to address these concerns. These opportunities include making greater use of new technology, particularly in the collection of data (such as web forms); reducing respondent burden through examining the use of alternative data sources such as administrative data; and greater collaboration and data sharing across the system to maximise the utility of available data.

A number of these opportunities align with the directions of the ABS Transformation Program. This five-year program, funded by additional investment from the Australian Government, will enable the ABS to modernise ageing systems and processes and develop the statistical capabilities required to be a high-performing national statistical organisation in the 21st century. The transformed infrastructure and processes will enable the ABS to improve responsiveness, reduce regulatory burden, reduce statistical risk and deliver substantial savings through a reduction in future operational costs. (For more information on the ABS Transformation goals and agenda please see ‘Transforming for the Future’ in ABS Corporate Plan, 2015-19 (cat.no.1005.0).

ABS is making the following changes to the Agricultural Census to address recommendations arising from the NASR and to support the directions of the ABS Transformation Program:
    • aligning the content of the Agricultural Census to the Enduring Goals for Australian Agriculture framework (developed through the NASR to represent the ongoing strategic information needs of the agricultural industry) to ensure it supports the highest-priority strategic information needs of the sector;
    • updating the scope of the collection to better align with contemporary definitions of an agricultural business and to reduce the burden on small businesses while still capturing the majority of agricultural activity;
    • further leveraging the benefits of web-form technology to reduce the reporting burden on providers, improve the provider experience and improve the efficiency of data collection;
    • working with stakeholders to identify and use alternative data sources, including administrative data, to improve the quality of Agricultural Census data, including the Agricultural Census frame and to assist with reducing respondent burden; and
    • improving the timeliness of outputs through the change in scope and through efficiencies achieved by the use of the improved web-form, with the first release of data expected to be up to 6 months earlier than the 2010-11 Agricultural Census.

These changes are covered in more detail in the remainder of this paper.