7121.0 - Agricultural Commodities, Australia, 2002-03  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 28/06/2004   
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This publication contains final estimates for the main commodities collected in the 2002-03 Agricultural Survey. It contains detailed statistics on crops, livestock and livestock products, land use and characteristics of farms.

Also included is an article summarising recent analysis of the 2001-02 Agricultural Survey coverage.


Detailed questions on land management were not asked in this year's Agricultural Survey. Therefore, for this year, there are no tables on irrigation methods, ground preparation methods, fertiliser usage, fencing built or trees and seedlings planted. However, the ABS conducted a detailed Water Survey in 2003 which collected a wide range of information on farm water usage, including area of pastures and crops irrigated, water allocation, sources of water, irrigation methods, on-farm water storage capacity and the extent of water re-use. Results are expected to be released late in 2004.


More information about ABS activities in the field of agriculture statistics is available from the Agriculture Statistics theme page on the ABS web site. To access the theme page, select 'Themes' from the menu on the home page.



Number of farms

The 2002-03 Agricultural Survey found that the number of farms in Australia fell by 2% in the 12 months ending 30 June 2003, down from 135,000 to 133,000 farms. This followed the general pattern of declining farm numbers in previous years.

The beef cattle farming industry remained the largest in terms of farm numbers, with around 27% of all farms. The mixed farming sector (grain-sheep/beef cattle) was the next largest, with around 13% of all farms. The number of farms in the grain sector fell, with the sheep sector (10% of all farms) overtaking it for third place.

Size of operations

EVAO of operations

The median estimated value of agricultural operations (EVAO) of all farms was approximately $109,000 in 2002-03. Around 17% of all farms (22,000 farms) had an EVAO below $22,500, while at the other end of the scale, 11% (14,200 farms) had an EVAO above $500,000.

The majority of farms with EVAO below $22,500 were involved in beef cattle farming (12,000 farms) and sheep farming (2,400 farms) while the majority of farms with EVAO above $500,000 were involved in grain growing (2,700 farms), mixed grain-sheep/beef cattle farming (2,100 farms), beef cattle farming (1,900 farms) and dairy farming (1,500 farms).

On an industry basis, the cotton, poultry for meat, poultry for eggs and pig farming industries were dominated by farms with large EVAOs, with around 72%, 56%, 34% and 34% respectively, having an EVAO greater than $500,000.

Area of operations

Most farms in 2002-03 were between 100 and 499 hectares in size, and accounted for 43,600 farms (or 33%). These farms were mainly engaged in beef cattle grazing, dairying, sheep grazing or grain growing.

Small farms under 50 hectares were the second main size group and accounted for 25,900 farms (or 20%). These small farms were mainly engaged in grape growing, beef cattle grazing, fruit growing, vegetable growing and plant nursery operations.

Large farms of over 2,500 hectares accounted for 11% (14,900) of all farms and were mainly engaged in grazing or cropping operations.



Drought was the most important factor affecting agricultural production in Australia in 2002-03. The 'one in a hundred year' drought saw crops hit extremely hard over most of Australia, with most harvests significantly below average.

Graph of major crops production, Australia, 2001 to 2003


The total area of wheat planted fell by 3% to 11.2 million hectares. The largest reduction in plantings was in New South Wales, which was down by 13% to 3.0 million hectares. However area planted in the main growing state of Western Australia was little changed at 4.5 million hectares.

Drought conditions saw wheat production fall by 58% to 10.1 million tonnes, with all the major growing states reporting significant reductions. The main falls in production occurred in New South Wales which fell by 69% to 2.5 million tonnes, and Western Australia, which fell by 48% to 4.0 million tonnes.


The total area of barley planted increased by 4% to 3.9 million hectares. The largest areas planted were in South Australia, with 1.2 million hectares, and Western Australia, with 1.1 million hectares. Despite the increase in plantings, production fell by 53% (down to 3.9 million tonnes from 8.3 million tonnes) as a result of extremely dry conditions in the main growing states.


The total area of oats planted increased by 16% to 911,000 hectares after three years of low plantings, as growers anticipated increased demand and prices for oats, especially for stockfeed. Production fell by 33% to 957,000 tonnes. This was the lowest level recorded since 1995 and was due to the dry conditions which saw average yields fall in all states. Production in Western Australia was less affected than other states, with a 14% drop in production. The Western Australian crop of 477,000 tonnes represented just under 50% of the national harvest.


Severe water restrictions saw reductions in plantings of rice. Area planted was down by 68% to 46,000 hectares, while production was down by 63% to 438,000 tonnes. The production of rice is dependent on access to water and the drought had a severe impact on the major growing regions in New South Wales.


Canola plantings fell by 3% to 1.3 million hectares, with falls in the largest growing states of New South Wales and Western Australia partly offset by increases in South Australia and Victoria. Dry conditions saw production levels drop by 50% to 871,000 tonnes, the lowest level of production since 1998, with falls reported in all states.

Cotton lint

Lack of water for irrigation and very hot and dry conditions saw plantings of cotton fall by 47% to 245,000 hectares. The area of non-irrigated cotton was most affected, falling by 75% to just over 10,000 hectares, while area of irrigated cotton was down by 44% to 235,000 hectares. Total cotton lint production was down by 46% to 364,000 tonnes.




The total area of vines fell marginally to 157,000 hectares, with small decreases in all states except Western Australia. Drought and lack of water for irrigation throughout 2002-03 saw total production of grapes fall by 15% to 1.5 million tonnes. This fall was made more apparent by the record outputs seen in 2001-02, when many producers reported excess production. The largest decreases were reported in Victoria (down 21% to 405,000 tonnes), South Australia (down 12% to 617,000 tonnes) and New South Wales (down 14% to 387,000 tonnes). Lower yields were reported in all states except Tasmania which increased from the very low figure reported the previous year.


Estimates of bearing orange trees in 2002-03 increased by 5% to 7.1 million trees. Increased tree numbers were reported in all growing regions. Orange production increased by 33% to a near record 599,000 tonnes after a poor crop the previous year. Increases were reported in all regions and were largest in the main growing states of New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.


In 2002-03 apple production rose by 2% to 326,000 tonnes. Increases in production in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania were partly offset by decreases in production in New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland. The total number of bearing apple trees rose by 4% to 8.4 million, with increases reported in all states except New South Wales and Western Australia.


The total bearing area of bananas fell by 15% to 10,700 hectares in 2002-03, with all regions reporting decreases. The decrease was due to a fall in the bearing area since area not yet bearing was little changed. Banana production fell by 15% to 265,000 tonnes, with falls reported in all the banana growing regions.

Graph of major fruit crop production, Australia, 2001 to 2003



The total area planted to potatoes fell by 5% to 35,900 hectares in 2002-03. Decreased plantings in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania were partly offset by an increase in South Australia, which had the largest area planted. Production of potatoes fell by 6% to 1.2 million tonnes after increasing the previous year. There were falls in all states except Queensland. The main falls were in Tasmania, New South Wales and Victoria.


The area planted to tomatoes fell by 14% to 7,300 hectares in 2002-03, with falls reported in all the mainland states. Total production of tomatoes fell by 14% to 364,000 tonnes. This was largely due to a 20% fall in Victoria, which was the main producing state.


The area planted to carrots fell by 4% to 7,400 hectares in 2002-03. There was a 29% fall in Victoria, the main growing state, but this was partly offset by increased planting in South Australia and New South Wales. Production of carrots fell by 8% to 306,000 tonnes with falls in Victoria and South Australia partly offset by increases in New South Wales and Tasmania.


The area planted to onions fell by 5% to 5,300 hectares, reversing the increase of the previous year and continuing the downward trend seen before then. Small increases in the main growing states of South Australia and Tasmania were offset by decreases in the other states. Production of onions fell by 19% to 229,000 tonnes, with reports of low prices and low demand as a result of an oversupply of onions on the world market.

Graph of major vegetable crop production, Australia, 2001 to 2003



The effects of prolonged drought throughout 2002-03 saw falls in reported numbers of all categories of livestock. Sheep and lamb numbers were at their lowest level in 56 years.

Graph of livestock numbers, Australia, 2001 to 2003

Milk cattle

The number of milk cattle fell by 3% to 3.0 million head at 30 June 2003. Most of the fall was in the number of cows in milk and dry since the number of other milk cattle (which included bulls, heifers and calves) was little changed. The most significant falls were reported in New South Wales (down 7% to 398,000) and Queensland (down 11% to 233,000), as these states experienced the pressures of the drought and ongoing effects of deregulation. Victoria had the majority of milk cattle, with its herd of 1.9 million down 3% from the previous year.

Meat cattle

Meat cattle numbers fell by 5% to 23.6 million head at 30 June 2003, as the effects of widespread drought took hold in many states. The main fall in cattle numbers occurred in Queensland which dropped 7% to 10.5 million (representing a decrease of just over three-quarters of a million head). Similarly significant falls were reported in New South Wales (down 3% to 5.4 million), Western Australia (down 8% to 1.8 million) and the Northern Territory (down 5% to 1.7 million). Numbers were little changed in both Victoria and South Australia but were up in Tasmania, which was reported to have brought in some drought-affected stock from the mainland.

Sheep and lambs

Sheep and lamb numbers fell by 7% to 99.3 million at 30 June 2003. This was the smallest estimated flock for Australia since 1947 (95.5 million). The main falls in sheep and lamb numbers were reported in New South Wales which fell by 12% to 33.7 million (representing a reduction of 4.8 million sheep and lambs) and Queensland which fell by 29% to 4.8 million (representing a reduction of 1.9 million sheep and lambs). Numbers were up slightly in Western Australia and may represent the influence of some of the new drought-tolerant breeds that have recently been introduced into that state.

Lamb markings and ewe matings were down in the main producing states, in line with changes in sheep numbers - markings were down 10% to 33.9 million and matings were down 5% to 43.7 million. This represented both the lowest number of lambs marked and the lowest number of ewes mated for at least 20 years and is indicative of the drought conditions and the overall small size of the flock. The lambing percentage fell to 78% in 2002-03, down 6% from the previous year.

Graph of numbers of sheep and lambs, Australia, 1903 to 2003


Australian pig numbers fell by 10% to 2.7 million at 30 June 2003, with falls in all states except Queensland and Tasmania. Industry representatives reported that increased imports and higher feed grain costs due to shortages caused by the drought have placed increased pressure on the industry. The number of establishments reporting pigs fell by 12% to 2,900 at 30 June 2003, with a decline in numbers of establishments in all states.


The number of chickens for meat production fell by 3% to 70.9 million birds at 30 June 2003. A decrease in New South Wales was partly offset by increases in Victoria and Western Australia. The number of chickens for egg production was unchanged at 12.9 million birds. Egg production was estimated to have increased by 2% to 191 million dozen in 2002-03, after falling the previous year.