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
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The Australian agricultural statistical system has evolved over the past 100 years to serve decision-making in relation to the agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries; however this has occurred in a fragmented and uncoordinated way. The NASR has undertaken extensive consultation across government, industry and research communities about the agricultural statistical system in Australia and its adequacy for informing decision-making both now and into the future. This process has explored the priority information needs of stakeholders, where these needs are not being met by existing sources of data, overlaps and inconsistencies in data, and opportunities for efficiency in the system. The NASR examined international and domestic statistical best practice and developed a set of guiding principles that underpin a well-functioning, effective and efficient agricultural statistical system.
While the agricultural statistical system has been effective in informing government and stakeholder needs, a number of deficiencies and stakeholder concerns have been identified that if addressed would improve the capacity of the system to efficiently meet current and emerging information needs. The review has identified a set of actions and initiatives to reduce survey burden, improve data quality, improve the efficiency of the system and address gaps in data.
A number of these actions can be progressed by ABS and ABARES, working together to improve coordination, to reduce burden and to improve data quality. These include:

    • better coordinating government statistical collection activities; encouraging the exploration of alternative data sources; improving survey form design; making better use of electronic forms; improving the integration of existing statistical collections; improving the value for respondents of participation in survey programs through partnerships with industry and returning results to participants in a usable and useful format
    • encouraging and supporting other organisations to use best practice respondent engagement methods when conducting surveys, through providing technical advice, frameworks and ready access to best practice concepts, principles, practices and tools
    • adopting new and emerging technologies wherever possible to improve the cost effectiveness and efficiency of collecting, managing, analysing and disseminating statistical data.

While these actions will go some way to improving the agricultural statistical system, the NASR has identified a broader set of systemic issues that require more time, investment, involvement and contributions from a wider group of stakeholders.
In response to these broader systemic issues, the review has identified a further set of actions and initiatives that would improve the agricultural statistical system for the long term, reduce survey burden, improve data quality, improve the efficiency of the system and address gaps in data. Stakeholders are in agreement about these priorities. The actions to address the systemic issues are outlined below, some of which will require further investigation and possible investment to realise substantial benefit.

To ensure there is strong coordination of the agricultural statistical system:

A. An agricultural statistics consultative forum should be established to engage stakeholders and drive effective coordination and improved outcomes across the Australian agricultural statistical system. The forum should pursue data gaps and overlaps and mechanisms to address them while identifying additional ways to improve data quality and reduce respondent burden.

B. An annual calendar of planned statistical collections requested of farmers, fishers and foresters should be published to improve public accountability of survey managers and to more effectively manage respondent burden through greater transparency. The calendar would guide planning by organisations undertaking surveys to minimise duplication and provide farmers, fishers and foresters and their industry bodies with information about the range of surveys being undertaken, their purpose and timing.

To guide a strategic approach to future investment by government and stakeholders in data collections:

C. A foundation dataset for agricultural statistics should be established to inform the enduring goals, address data gaps and better target future investment. The foundation agricultural dataset would provide a common reference for the assembly and maintenance of foundation level data in order to serve the widest possible variety of users. It would deliver a national coverage of the best available, most current, authoritative source of agricultural data, which is standardised and quality controlled.

To ensure best use of all available data sources, to maximise data quality, minimise respondent burden and collection costs:

D. An agricultural administrative data initiative should be established to develop methods for broader use of administrative data sources within the agricultural statistical system. The initiative should examine legislative, privacy and commercial barriers to the use of data collected by governments and industry with the objective of reducing survey burden on farmers and implementing a “collect once, use many times” approach. The initiative should also research and develop best-practice methods for integration of administrative data into the agricultural statistical system to ensure data quality standards are met, privacy and commercial concerns are addressed, and to maximise utility of the data. This initiative would complement the ABS’ lead role in improving the re-use of key Australian Government administrative datasets to minimise regulatory burden on citizens and businesses.

To ensure investment in, and use of innovative new technologies, methods and processes across the statistical cycle:

E. A more coordinated approach from research funders should be encouraged in support of the agricultural statistical system. Future research investments should be targeted at those technologies and innovations that have the widest application and that would support implementation of best practice principles. In particular, an increased focus on innovative technologies, methods and processes through the statistical cycle that would deliver potentially significant benefit to farmers, statistical organisations and ultimately, users of statistics.

To promote a culture of open data:

F. A one-stop-portal for agricultural statistics should be established to maximise the value of existing data sources and provide discoverability and accessibility to the foundation agricultural dataset. The portal would also deliver supporting statistical infrastructure (standards and classifications, tools and methods), educational resources to address statistical capability gaps of users and tools to enable self-management of Statistical Clearing House compliance by non-Commonwealth government organisations.

These collective measures would help to ensure that the ongoing productivity, competitiveness and sustainability of Australia’s agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries is supported by a world-class, agile and cost-effective agricultural statistical system. Implementing these measures would in turn directly address stakeholder concerns: reducing respondent burden, improving data quality, enhancing statistical infrastructure and ensuring that there is strong coordination in the agricultural statistical system. These actions would deliver a modern agricultural statistical system based on best practice principles that underpins the future profitability of Australia’s agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries.