Agricultural Census: counting the outback cattle (Media Release), May 2006

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May 03, 2006
Embargoed: 11:30 AM (AEST)

Agricultural Census: counting the outback cattle

Cattle farmers in our harshest countryside are taking part in this year's Agricultural Census to highlight the importance of the industry to Australia's economy.

The 2005-06 Agricultural Census, run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), will give the cattle industry an insight into what effects, if any, recent droughts have had on stock levels in the already dry conditions of outback Australia and future exports.

Five years ago the previous Agricultural Census found that one in five of the nation's cattle grazed in the outback.

Gemma Van Halderen, head of the Agriculture Statistics program at the ABS, said that outback cattle farms will be among the many agricultural businesses taking part in the Agricultural Census.

"This census will cover 190,000 farm businesses in Australia, including the three thousand or so outback businesses that run cattle in most difficult conditions," said Gemma.

"Not surprisingly, most of these cattle are raised for beef production, with the dry conditions not conducive to dairy farming. The 2001 estimates showed the outback only supported about 12,000 dairy cattle, less than 1% of all cattle raised in these parts," explained Gemma.

To highlight the importance of the outback's contribution to Australian agricultural production, Gemma pointed out that the outback herd was the main source of cattle for Australia's live cattle trade.

"With the trade in live cattle worth $374 million in 2004-05, it is imperative the main supply lines of this important trade are accurately monitored. Data from the 2005-06 Agricultural Census will be most valuable in assessing Australia's capacity to fill future live export quotas," she said.

This Census is designed to collect information about agricultural production, stock levels and land use issues across Australia. Forms will be despatched in late June 2006 with processing and editing of the data expected to take until early 2007 before preliminary results will be made available.

The 2000-01 Agricultural Census estimated that 20% (6 million) of the national cattle herd grazed in outback Australia. Outback Queensland was home to 3 million cattle and Northern Territory, most of which qualifies as outback, carried 1.6 million.

Bos indicus crossbred cattle, such as Brahman Hereford cross, dominate the make up of the outback herd and have proven to be well suited to the harsh regions. While food may be sparse for these livestock, there is little competition, with only one beast per 40 hectares.