7127.0 - Agricultural Land and Water Ownership, Jun 2013 Quality Declaration 
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 19/06/2014   
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EXPLANATORY NOTES



INTRODUCTION

1 This publication presents final estimates of the level of foreign ownership of businesses with agricultural land and/or water entitlements in Australia, and the area of agricultural land and volume of water entitlements owned by these businesses. The data were collected in the Agricultural Land and Water Ownership Survey (ALWOS) between August and November 2013, with data relating to ownership status as at 30 June 2013.

2 Estimates from the ALWOS are provided in this publication in the Summary tab. Additional content is attached to this publication in data cubes and is accessible via the Downloads tab. These data cubes present a more comprehensive account of the levels of foreign ownership of agricultural businesses, agricultural land and water entitlements used for agricultural purposes in Australia, by state/territory, and by industry group.

3 The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) also collects and publishes counts of businesses operating in agriculture and areas of agricultural land through an annual survey (see Agricultural Commodities, Australia cat. no. 7121.0). Volumes of water entitlements for agricultural purposes were last collected and published in Water Use on Australian Farms, 2002-03 (cat. no. 4618.0). For information on the comparability of these collections to ALWOS, see further below (‘Comparability with other collections’).

4 Where figures for individual states/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.

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

GENERAL

6 This is the second ALWOS conducted by the ABS. The first ALWOS was conducted in respect of 2010. 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 2010 and 2013 ALWOS collections (due to conceptual differences and different collection methodology).

7 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, and data from the survey was published in mid-2011. Prior to this survey, there was very little data available on foreign investment in Australian agricultural activity.

8 In 2012 the Federal Government announced it would fund ongoing and expanded statistical data collection by the ABS on foreign ownership of agricultural land and water entitlements. This was to be collected via stand-alone sample surveys in 2013 and 2018 and through supplementary surveys to the Agricultural Census in 2016 and 2021.

9 As for the 2010 survey, key stakeholders including the Department of Treasury, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) and the Department of Agriculture (DoA) were consulted on the information requirements and priorities to be delivered from the 2013 ALWOS. From this consultation it was agreed that the 2013 ALWOS would collect the same information as the 2010 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 2010 survey to maximise comparability between the two surveys.

10 The 2013 ALWOS was designed to deliver national-level estimates, with data provided by state/territory or by industry group where available. However care must be taken in using the 2013 ALWOS estimates and interpreting the differences between the 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.

11 Further information on the definitions, concepts and classifications, scope and coverage, collection methodology and quality of the survey is provided below.

DEFINITIONS, CONCEPTS AND CLASSIFICATIONS

12 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 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).

13 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.

14 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.

15 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'); and where it was unknown whether or not the business had any level of foreign ownership (categorised as 'Ownership not known').

16 These categories were defined during stakeholder consultation on the information requirements for the survey. Discussions with key stakeholders also determined that, for the purposes of the ALWOS, holders of agricultural land leases of five years or longer were considered to be owners of the land.

17 The industry classification used in this publication is the 2006 version of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC). ANZSIC 2006 was developed to provide a more contemporary industrial classification system taking into account issues such as changes in the structure and composition of the economy, changing user demands and compatibility with major international classification standards. For more information, please refer to Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC), 2006 (cat. no. 1292.0).

SCOPE AND COVERAGE

18 The target population for the ALWOS survey 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).

19 The frame (list of businesses) for the ALWOS survey 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.

20 The ABSBR has been used since 2005-06 for ABS agricultural collections, and is based on the Australian Business Register (ABR) which is maintained by the Australian Business Registrar. The ABSBR has a very high level of coverage of agricultural businesses in Australia as most businesses and organisations in Australia need to obtain an Australian Business Number (ABN) from the Australian Business Registrar for their business operations. The ABSBR is updated regularly to reflect population and business changes. It excludes agricultural businesses with cancelled ABNs and incorporates information on new agricultural businesses from the Australian Business Registrar.

21 The scope of the 2013 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. As a scoping variable, it is used to assist in excluding small farming businesses (hobby farms) recorded on the ABS Business Register from scope, and to assist in the frame and sample design for ABS agricultural business surveys. EVAO does not reflect turnover, income or profit of the agricultural operation.

22 For the 2013 ALWOS a sample of approximately 11,000 businesses were selected from an in-scope population of approximately 147,000 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 2010 ALWOS was also used to enhance the design of the 2013 survey 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.

23 The final response rate for the survey was 88%, that is 88% of businesses which were surveyed responded to the survey and contributed to the estimates from the survey. The final response rate was higher than the target of 85%.

COLLECTION METHOD

24 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.

25 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.

26 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.

27 Confrontation (comparison) of the ALWOS estimates against other sources was also undertaken to validate the estimates at aggregate level. This included making comparisons between the ALWOS estimates of total businesses, agricultural land and total area of holding against recent ABS annual agricultural survey results; comparing water entitlement data against previous ABS collections of water use and water entitlements; and comparing the levels of foreign ownership against the 2010 ALWOS. 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. The 2013 ALWOS estimates were found to be in line with expectations from these sources.

COMPARABILITY WITH OTHER COLLECTIONS

28 The 2013 ALWOS estimates are comparable with the previous 2010 ALWOS estimates as the same methodologies and concepts are used.

29 However, estimates of the total number of businesses with agricultural holdings and total area of holding from the 2013 ALWOS are not fully comparable with estimates from ABS annual agricultural surveys due to differences in scope of the surveys. Agricultural survey business counts and area of holding estimates (published annually in Agricultural Commodities, Australia, (cat. no. 7121.0)) are based on businesses that operated an agricultural property during the reference period, 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 2013.

RELIABILITY OF ESTIMATES

30 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. 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).

31 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.

32 For the tables in this publication, sampling variability of estimates of level (i.e. business counts, area of land and volume of water) are measured by the relative standard error (RSE), which is produced by expressing the SE as a percentage of the estimate to which it refers. Level estimates with RSEs above 10% are annotated with the range in which the RSE falls. Estimates with RSEs between 10% and 25% should be used with caution as they are subject to sampling variability too high for some purposes. Level estimates with RSEs between 25% and 50% should be used with caution as they are subject to sampling variability too high for most practical purposes. Level estimates with an RSE greater than 50% are considered too unreliable for general use, although in the instances where the estimates are small, a high RSE may not preclude the estimate from use. Users should consider both the annotation and the CI tables before making a final assessment on the quality of these level estimates.

33 For the tables in this publication, sampling variability of estimates of proportion (i.e. percentage of businesses by level of foreign ownership and percentage of agricultural land by level of foreign ownership) is expressed by the difference between the estimated proportion and the 95% CI of that estimate. If the difference between the estimated proportion and the upper or lower bounds of the 95% CI is greater than 10% the cell is annotated with the range in which the difference falls. Proportion estimates with a difference between the estimated proportion and the upper or lower bounds of the 95% CI of between 10% and 25% should be used with caution. Proportion estimates with a difference between the estimated proportion and the upper or lower bounds of the 95% CI of between 25% and 50% should be used with caution as the proportion estimate is subject to sampling variability too high for most practical purposes. Proportion estimates with a difference between the estimated proportion and the upper or lower bounds of the 95% CI that is greater than or equal to 50% are considered too unreliable for general use.

34 A table with RSEs for selected estimates in the publication follows:
RELATIVE STANDARD ERRORS OF SELECTED ESTIMATES - year ended 30 June 2013

Aust.

%


Count of agricultural businesses - Australian-owned (no.)
0.7
Count of agricultural businesses - Total foreign-owned (no.)
13.8
Count of agricultural businesses - Total agricultural businesses (no.)
0.7
Area of agricultural land – Australian-owned (ha)
3.4
Area of agricultural land - Total foreign-owned (ha)
4.7
Area of agricultural land - Total area of holding (ha)
3.0
Water entitlements for agricultural purposes - Australian-owned (ML)
3.9
Water entitlements for agricultural purposes - Total foreign-owned (ML)
8.4
Water entitlements for agricultural purposes - Total water entitlements (ML)
3.6


ABS DATA AVAILABLE ON REQUEST

35 As well as the statistics included in this and related 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.

PRIVACY

36 The ABS Privacy Policy outlines how the ABS will handle any personal information that you provide to the ABS.

GENERAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

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.

RELATED PUBLICATIONS

38 Current publications and other products released by the ABS are listed under the Statistics and Topics @ a Glance pages 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.