7105.0.55.004 - National Agricultural Statistics Review - Final Report, 2015  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 29/07/2015  First Issue
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All


The Australian agricultural statistics system has evolved over time to support the information needs of decision-makers across government, industry and the broader community. Statistics on major crops and livestock have been collected as far back as the days of early settlement, and by the early part of the 20th century agriculture had become one of the major industry statistics produced by the Bureau of Census and Statistics (predecessor to the ABS), reflecting its importance to the national economy16. Over time the agricultural statistical system in Australia has evolved to include a range of other Australian and state and territory government agencies, most notably the Department of Agriculture through ABARES (and its predecessors17), which collects a range of statistical information on farming, forestry and fisheries. In addition, other stakeholders such as industry and research bodies, began undertaking their own statistical collections, partly in response to perceived gaps in the availability of official statistics.

The range and type of statistics collected has changed over time in response to the changing nature of the agricultural industry and emerging information needs. For example, growing concerns regarding the environmental impact of farming practices has resulted in increased interest in data on salinity and land degradation, chemical use and residues in food. Structural change in the industry resulting in fewer, larger farms, with concomitant impacts on rural employment, has led to interest in data on the social and economic impacts of agriculture on rural communities. In response, the scope of statistical collection by stakeholders has grown beyond commodity data to encompass topics such as farm business productivity, trade statistics, land management practices undertaken by farmers and their use of natural resources such as water, and the demographics of Australian farmers and the communities in which they live and work.

The agricultural statistical system in Australia faces a number of challenges in meeting the ever-changing demands of users for timely, reliable data. Australia’s agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries produce a diverse range of products, expanding the scope of topics that the system must inform. These products are produced under variable climatic conditions, and in an economic environment highly exposed to international trade conditions, increasing the demand for frequent and coherent time series data. In addition, agriculture accounts for approximately half the nation’s land use and water use, and affects the employment and social cohesion of rural communities. Users require sophisticated, integrated statistical products to understand the full economic, environmental and social impacts of the agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries in Australia.

This increasing and changing demand for high-quality and sophisticated statistical information is occurring at the same time as the costs of direct statistical collection are increasing. Difficulties in obtaining sufficient responses from businesses, recruiting trained field staff and maintaining and investing in new statistical infrastructure are affecting the sustainability of official data sources. Non-government organisations such as research and industry organisations have stepped in to conduct their own statistical collections - however these organisations face similar challenges in obtaining responses and in developing and maintaining their own statistical infrastructure.

The result of this evolution is a statistical system that is predominately centralised, with ABS and ABARES having central but differing roles in relation to agriculture, fisheries and forestry statistics, and other stakeholders, including other government, industry and research bodies, contributing variously to the statistical picture. In the current system, agricultural statistics are mainly collected by the ABS and ABARES, with support from industry through the Research and Development Corporations (RDCs). ABARES is the main provider of fisheries and forestry statistics, which it collates from state and territory governments and industry. Trade data and aggregate macroeconomic data on the agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries are provided by the ABS.

More information on the specific survey activities and data holdings of these stakeholders is outlined in the following sections.


16 The Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics was established in 1906, the year after the Census and Statistics Act 1905 was passed. The Bureau became the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 1975, following the passing of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975.

17 The Bureau of Agricultural Economics, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and the Bureau of Rural Sciences.