Interacting factors such as the opening up of new land, the development of transport facilities and profitable markets, and technical and scientific achievements, have shaped the evolution of Australian agriculture.
Until the late 1950s, agricultural products accounted for more than 80% of the value of Australia's exports. Since then, that proportion has declined markedly as the Australian economy has become increasingly diverse. The quantity and value of production have expanded in the mining, manufacturing and, in recent years, the service industries. This decline in importance has not been due to a decline in agricultural activity, as agricultural output has increased over this period. The direct contribution of agriculture to gross domestic product has remained steady at around 3% throughout the last decade. Australian agriculture is a vital sector occupying a significant place in global rural trade, with wool, beef, wheat, cotton and sugar being particularly important. Australia is also an important source of dairy produce, fruit, rice and flowers.
The major source of statistics on land use, commodity production and livestock numbers in this chapter is the ABS Agricultural Census, conducted each year until 1996-97. Since 1997-98 these data have been collected in the Agricultural Commodity Survey, a large sample survey conducted Australia-wide. The Agricultural Commodity Survey is conducted in place of the census in four years out of five. The last census was conducted in 2001, coinciding with the Census of Population and Housing.