7127.0 - Agricultural Land and Water Ownership, 2015-16 Quality Declaration 
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 13/09/2017   
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1 This publication presents estimates on the level of foreign ownership of businesses in scope of the 2016 Agricultural Land and Water Ownership Survey (ALWOS). Included are statistics on the level of foreign ownership of businesses with land and/or water entitlements in Australia, and the area of agricultural land and volume of water entitlements owned by these businesses as at 30 June 2016.

2 National and state/territory level estimates are presented in this release. Data cubes attached to the publication present a more comprehensive account of the levels of foreign ownership of agricultural businesses, agricultural land and/or water entitlements in Australia, by state/territory, and by select industry groups.

3 The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) also collects counts of businesses operating in agriculture and areas of agricultural land through the Agricultural Census, conducted once every five years, and the Rural Environment and Agricultural Commodity Survey (REACS) conducted annually in the intervening years (see Agricultural Commodities, Australia cat. no. 7121.0 For information on the comparability of these collection to ALWOS, see further below (‘Comparability with other collections’).


4 This is the third ALWOS conducted by the ABS. The first ALWOS was conducted in 2010 and the second conducted in 2013. The ABS had previously collected data on farm ownership in the 1983-84 Agricultural Census; however results from this are not directly comparable to the ALWOS collections due to conceptual differences and different collection methodology.

5 Following the introduction of the Foreign Acquisitions Amendment (Agricultural Land) Bill in late 2010, the ABS was asked to collect information on the level of foreign ownership of agricultural businesses, land and water entitlements used for agricultural activity to inform government policy in this area. The ABS undertook the first ALWOS, collected under the Census and Statistics Act 1905, in respect of ownership status as at 31 December 2010. Prior to this survey, there was very little data available on foreign investment in Australian agricultural activity.

6 The Register of Foreign Ownership of Australian Land Act 2015 established the Register of Foreign Owned Agricultural Land in 2015, and was part of a suite of reforms designed to increase transparency around foreign investment in Australia. Administered by the Australian Taxation Office, the Register of Foreign Owned Agricultural Land provides current information on the level of foreign ownership of agricultural land on a similar and consistent basis to ALWOS.

7 Key stakeholders for the ALWOS including the Department of Treasury, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources were consulted on the information requirements and priorities to be delivered from the 2016 ALWOS. From this consultation it was agreed that the 2016 ALWOS would collect the same information as the 2013 survey, namely: information on the level of foreign ownership of businesses with agricultural land and/or water entitlements in Australia, and the area of land and volume of water entitlements in Australia owned by these businesses. It was also agreed that the survey would use the same definition of foreign ownership, scope and coverage, and collection methodology as the 2013 survey to maximise comparability between the surveys.

8 The 2016 ALWOS was designed to deliver national-level estimates, with data presented by state and territory or by industry group where available. However, care must be taken in using the 2016 ALWOS estimates and interpreting the differences to 2013 and 2010 ALWOS estimates, especially at lower levels of disaggregation (e.g. by industry or state/territory), since the sampling errors on some of these estimates can be large.


9 The definition of agricultural land, water entitlement and foreign ownership in the ALWOS were defined and measured using existing ABS standards and methods. The meaning of water rights in this context is limited to water entitlements for use on agricultural land. The population of interest for the survey (defined further below) was limited to businesses owning or operating land, or water entitlements used for agricultural activity. This includes businesses that conducted agriculture as a primary or secondary activity as well businesses that owned land or water entitlements but were not active in agricultural production, and excludes the processing and downstream transformation of agricultural goods (manufacturing).

10 The ALWOS was designed to capture information on the level of direct foreign ownership in businesses undertaking agricultural activity, as this was determined to be the main item of interest during consultation on the information requirements for the survey. As such, the ALWOS does not provide information on foreign ownership via complex chains of business ownership and control. The definition of foreign ownership used for the ALWOS is coherent with that used for ABS international investment statistics.

11 The ALWOS asked respondents to identify the level of foreign ownership of their business, according to one of the following categories:

        • entirely Australian-owned;
        • less than 10% foreign-owned;
        • greater than or equal to 10% and less than or equal to 50% foreign-owned; and
        • greater than 50% foreign-owned.

12 Respondents were also able to separately report for instances where: the business was known to have a level of foreign ownership but the exact percentage was unknown (such responses were categorised as 'Level of Foreign Ownership as unknown'). In depth editing and follow up with providers was undertaken in 2016 where ‘ownership not known’ was reported to determine whether there was a level of foreign ownership or whether the business was entirely Australian owned. Ownership status was resolved for nearly all agricultural businesses.

13 For the purposes of the ALWOS, holders of agricultural land leases of five years or longer were considered to be owners of the land. The five year (or longer) period was measured as elapsed time to June 2016 and did not consider how much longer a lease might extend. This is consistent with previous collections.

14 The industry classification used in this publication is the 2006 version of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC). For more information, please refer to Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC), 2006 (cat. no. 1292.0).


15 The target population of the 2016 ALWOS was all businesses owning or operating agricultural land for agricultural purposes in Australia. This includes businesses that operated agricultural properties (the target population for other ABS agricultural surveys), as well as businesses that owned agricultural land that was not being actively operated for agricultural purposes during the reference period (normally excluded from ABS agricultural surveys).

16 The ALWOS survey’s frame (list of businesses) was taken from the ABS Business Register (ABSBR), supplemented by information from other sources and from information collected during processing which was used to identify businesses of interest.

17 The ABSBR is based on the Australian Business Register (ABR). Most businesses and organisations in Australia are required to obtain an Australian Business Number (ABN) from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) for their business operations. The ABR stores details about businesses and organisations when they register for an ABN.

18 The scope of the 2016 ALWOS included all agricultural businesses from the ABSBR above a minimum size cut-off of $5,000. This measure of size is based primarily on the ABS' Estimated Value of Agricultural Operations (EVAO), which is a combined measure of both agricultural activity and area of holding (in some instances, it also incorporates information derived from the Business Activity Statement turnover). The calculation of EVAO is designed to even-out fluctuations in business value caused by variable climatic and economic conditions, and to enable the size of businesses to be compared across industry (ANZSIC) classes. EVAO does not reflect turnover, income or profit of the agricultural operation.

19 For the 2016 ALWOS a sample of approximately 11,000 businesses were selected from an in-scope population of approximately 142,000 businesses on the ABSBR. The design of this sample took into account the likelihood that a business had some level of foreign ownership, its location (state/territory), industry (e.g. beef farmer, vegetable grower) and the size of the business (measured by the area of its agricultural holdings). Information collected in the 2013 ALWOS and 2016 Agricultural Census was also used to enhance the design of the 2016 survey’s sample. This ensured that the sample would have good coverage of businesses with a likelihood of foreign ownership and would have good coverage of the majority of land used in agricultural industry groups. Other data sources were also used to inform the sample design.

20 The final response rate for the survey was 83%, that is 83% of businesses which were surveyed responded to the survey and contributed to the estimates from the survey


21 Information in the ALWOS was collected through an electronic (web-based) survey form supplemented with paper form collection and phone-based follow-up. As for all ABS agricultural surveys, the form was extensively tested prior to despatch to ensure the questions and associated definitions and concepts would be understood by survey participants.

22 Respondents to the survey were asked to report the level of foreign ownership of their business (as defined using the categories described above under ‘Definitions, concepts and classifications’); the area (in hectares) of agricultural land owned, operated or leased by the business in each state/territory; and the volume of water entitlements (in megalitres) owned or accessed by the business for agricultural purposes in each state/territory. This information was used to determine the total area of agricultural land and volume of water entitlements owned by businesses with a level of foreign ownership nationally and by state/territory.

23 Extensive quality assurance was undertaken to validate the quality of the final estimates produced from the ALWOS, as per other ABS agricultural and other surveys. This included extensive checks during the data collection and processing phase, ongoing research to identify potential businesses of interest to the survey, and intensive follow-up of respondents to ensure the survey had good coverage of the target population.

24 Confrontation (comparison) of the ALWOS estimates against other sources was also undertaken to validate the estimates at aggregate levels. The primary sources of confrontation were estimates from the previous 2010 and 2013 ALWOS as well as estimates of total number of businesses, total area of agricultural land and water use from the 2015-16 Agricultural Census. In addition, the 2016 ALWOS estimated total area of agricultural land was compared to the latest information available on the Register of Foreign Owned Agricultural Land (as at June 2016). Although the estimates from these collections are not all directly comparable (due to differing scope and collection methodologies – see below) they are considered a valuable reference for the expected scale of foreign ownership of agricultural holdings and water entitlements and 2016 ALWOS estimate were in line with expectations from these various confrontation sources.


25 The 2016 ALWOS estimates are comparable with the previous 2010 and 2013 ALWOS estimates as the same methodologies and concepts are used to enable a consistent time series.

26 However, estimates of the total number of businesses with agricultural holdings and total area of agricultural land from the 2016 ALWOS are not fully comparable with estimates from the 2015-16 Agricultural Census or previous annual Rural Environment and Agricultural Commodity Survey (REACS) outputs due to differences in scope across the annual ABS agricultural collections:
        • The scope for the 2015-16 Agricultural Census was all agricultural businesses with an EVAO of $40,000 or greater. The 2016 ALWOS continues to use a scope cut-off of $5,000 EVAO or greater, the same scope cut-off as previous REACS outputs.
        • Estimates of business counts and area of holding estimates for the 2015-16 Agricultural Censuses and previous annual REACS relate to businesses that operated an agricultural property during the reference period (1 July to 30 June), whereas the ALWOS estimates include these businesses as well as businesses that owned agricultural land that was not being operated for agricultural purposes as at 30 June 2016.

27 The statistical unit underpinning the ALWOS also varies slightly to that used in other ABS agricultural collections. ALWOS collects information for businesses at the Australian Business Number (ABN) unit level. The Agricultural Census and the REACS also collects information for businesses at the ABN level, however these are split into smaller units at unique geographies to support finer level geographic outputs.


28 The estimates in this publication are based on information obtained from a sample drawn from the total population of businesses in scope of the collection, and are subject to sampling variability; that is, they may differ from the figures that would have been produced if all businesses had been included in the survey.

29 One measure of the likely difference is given by the standard error (SE) which indicates the extent to which an estimate might vary by chance because only a sample was taken. There are about two chances in three that a ‘sample’ estimate will differ by less than one SE from the figure that would have been obtained if all businesses had responded (known as the 66% confidence interval (CI)) and about nineteen chances in twenty that the difference will be less than two SEs (95% CI).

30 The SEs for ALWOS have been produced using standard ABS systems and are based on well understood and accepted practices. However, in the case of estimates of small proportions the SE may not be the best indicator of sampling variability. In the ALWOS this has resulted in some SEs that would generate CIs that have negative lower bounds. As a result the ABS has provided CI tables which more accurately consider the variability and consequently do not produce negative estimates of counts or proportions of businesses. These CI tables provide an improved estimate of sampling error, but may also lead to cases where the estimate no longer coincides with the centre of the CIs.

31 In this publication, 'sampling' variability of the estimates is measured by the relative standard error (RSE) which is obtained by expressing the SE as a percentage of the estimate to which it refers. Most published estimates have RSEs less than 10%. For some states and territories with limited production of certain commodities, RSEs are greater than 10%. Estimates that have an estimated RSE between 10% and 25% should be used with caution as they are subject to sampling variability too high for some purposes. Estimates with an RSE between 25% and 50% should also be used with caution as they are subject to sampling variability too high for most practical purposes. Estimates with an RSE greater than 50% are considered too unreliable for general use.
Users should consider both the annotation and the CI tables before making a final assessment on the quality of these level estimates.

32 A table with RSEs for selected estimates in the publication follows:



Count of agricultural businesses - Australian-owned (no.)
Count of agricultural businesses – Any level of foreign ownership (no.)
Count of agricultural businesses - Total agricultural businesses (no.)
Area of agricultural land – Australian-owned (ha)
Area of agricultural land - Any level of foreign ownership (ha)
Area of agricultural land - Total area of holding (ha)
Water entitlements for agricultural purposes - Australian-owned (ML)
Water entitlements for agricultural purposes - Any level of foreign ownership (ML)
Water entitlements for agricultural purposes - Total water entitlements (ML)


33 Where figures for individual states or territories have been suppressed for reasons of confidentiality, they have been included in relevant national totals. In addition, some categories have been combined, for example, combining the Australian Capital Territory data with New South Wales data.

34 Where figures have been rounded, discrepancies may occur between sums of the component items and totals.


35 ABS publications can be accessed under the Statistics page on the ABS Website. The ABS also issues a daily Release Advice on the website which details products to be released in the week ahead.


36 As well as the statistics included in this publications, the ABS may have other relevant data available on request. Inquiries should be made to the National Information and Referral Service on 1300 135 070.


37 ABS publications draw extensively on information provided freely by individuals, businesses, governments and other organisations. Their continued cooperation is very much appreciated. Without it, the wide range of statistics published by the ABS would not be available. Information received by the ABS is treated in strict confidence as required by the Census and Statistics Act 1905.


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