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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Australia’s agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries make a significant contribution to Australia’s economy, society and natural resources. The productivity, competitiveness, sustainability and profitability of these industries are enhanced by having access to timely, high-quality and reliable statistics to inform decision-making by both government and industry. There has been criticism however that the current Australian agricultural statistical system is deficient in providing quality, timely data to meet these needs. Particularly in an environment of fiscal constraint, it is essential that the datasets produced within Australia’s agricultural statistical system are targeted at the highest priority needs and are produced, disseminated and used in the most effective and efficient way.


The Australian agricultural statistical 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 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)), reflecting its importance to the national economy. 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 the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES and its predecessors), 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.

Agriculture, fisheries and forestry statistics support decision-making, planning and policy making by both government and industry. At the micro level, individual businesses use statistics to inform their management and investment decisions. At the macro-level statistics inform decisions by government on funding arrangements; provide critical market intelligence for industry; aid planning for emergency responses; guide long-term investment strategies; meet legislative requirements; and meet obligations for international reporting.


The National Agricultural Statistics Review (NASR) has been undertaken jointly by the ABS and ABARES. The objective of the review was to assess the agricultural statistical system in Australia and its adequacy for informing decision-making, planning and policy making, both now and into the future. Through extensive stakeholder consultation and research, the NASR has investigated the priority information needs of stakeholders, where these needs are not being met by existing sources of data, potential overlaps and inconsistencies in data, and opportunities to improve efficiency in the system.

The NASR developed a framework of five enduring goals for Australia’s agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries. The enduring goals framework provides an approach to assessing the relevance and sustainability of the agricultural statistical system over time. Statistical assets that target these enduring goals are likely to meet the high level information needs of the agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries.

The enduring goals encompass the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries and reflect the fact that changes in these industries can affect other aspects of the economy, including health policy, food safety, renewable energy production, emergency management, rural development and international trade competitiveness. This interconnectedness means that the need for information about agriculture, fisheries and forestry extends well beyond those industries themselves. The five enduring goals are:

    • Competitive and profitable agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries
    • Prosperous communities
    • Sustainable natural resource use
    • Growing trade and market access
    • The protection of animal, plant and human health and welfare.
While the agricultural statistical system has informed government and stakeholder needs for more than a century, stakeholder consultations identified a number of deficiencies and concerns that compromise the capacity of the system to efficiently meet current and emerging information needs. Four key themes were raised by stakeholders in relation to the functioning of the current and future agricultural statistics system. These were:
    • managing the red tape’ burden on respondents (primarily farmers) resulting from survey activity
    • improving the quality of statistics produced from the system
    • enhancing the statistical infrastructure underpinning the system
    • improving the coordination and governance arrangements in place to ensure the system functions efficiently and effectively.
There is increasing pressure on official sources to meet an ever-widening range of information needs and to produce more accurate, timely data down to fine levels of detail within existing resources. Dissatisfaction with a perceived inability of official sources to meet these needs has led to increasing fragmentation in the statistical system as a range of other stakeholders from government, industry and the research sector have stepped in to meet data gaps with statistical collections of their own. This has led, at times, to possible duplication of effort, inefficiencies in the production and use of statistics, and an increased burden on respondents. This burden is driving farmers, in particular, to disengage from surveys, leading to reduced response rates and lower data quality.

Stakeholders raised a range of quality concerns with agricultural statistics, including issues with the relevance, accuracy, timeliness, accessibility, interpretability and coherence of statistics produced across the system. These quality concerns included a number of key data gaps, such as data on industry supply chains, value adding, productivity estimates for some industries, regional scale data, upstream and downstream employment, domestic consumption and labour market supply and demand.

Concerns with the quality and availability of the statistical infrastructure (standards and classifications, tools and methods) underlying the statistics were also raised. Stakeholders reported that currently there is a wide variety of methods, systems and techniques used to collect, analyse and disseminate statistical data across the statistical system, consequently data are difficult to compare. Statistical infrastructure is not widely shared and this is leading to inefficiencies as organisations develop their own approaches in a siloed manner.

A recurring issue raised by stakeholders during the NASR consultation was the coordination and governance mechanisms in the current agricultural statistical system. For example, ABS’ statistical leadership role is not well understood or recognised. In addition, stakeholders do not always understand the roles and responsibilities of other participants in the system. There are also differing expectations regarding the contributions of government and industry in meeting statistical needs, with some having the view that government should provide the majority of required statistics, and others seeing a stronger role for industry. The lack of a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities in the statistical system has led to a lack of coordination in statistical production, inefficiency, possible duplication and increased respondent burden.


The NASR has identified a set of actions and initiatives for addressing the issues identified through the review. 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 systemic issues and actions to address them are outlined below, some of which will require further investigation and possible investment to realise substantial benefit.

There is no overarching mechanism that is coordinating the contributions of all the various organisations producing agricultural statistics and no mechanisms for ensuring the production and use of statistics is effectively planned and coordinated across the system, nor a knowledge of the surveys planned in any one year.

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.

The current Australian agricultural statistical system has evolved without a strong central plan or strategy. Development has occurred in a somewhat reactive manner, as stakeholders have stepped in at different times to produce statistics in response to emerging needs and in response to dissatisfaction with the availability of official statistics. This has resulted in some possible duplication and inefficiency and has limited the relevance of the data produced.

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.

Direct collection from survey respondents is still the predominant method in use among both official and non-official sources. However, there is an increasing range of alternative data sources available, such as administrative data, which appear to be under-utilised. These data should be explored for their potential to reduce respondent burden while meeting the demand for agricultural statistics in Australia.

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.

While there has been investment in new technologies and innovations in the agricultural statistical system by various stakeholders, including government, this investment could be better coordinated and targeted. The issues raised through the NASR indicate there are likely to be benefits from investing in technologies and innovations that reduce respondent burden and improve data quality, and that exploit the potential of modern technologies to provide timely new statistics relevant to current and emerging issues and decisions.

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.

While there is a range of agriculture, fisheries and forestry data publicly available within the current Australian agricultural statistical system, more could be done to fully institute a culture of ‘open data’ across the system. The issues and challenges in achieving this will differ between official and non-official statistics producers. The challenge lies in realising the full value of the data collected by improving its accessibility, discoverability and usability. However, the NASR also identified a gap in the availability of statistical learning resources for non-technical users of agriculture, fisheries and forestry statistics. Critical to drawing full benefits from an open data culture is the development of sufficient statistical capability among users to be able to access and draw value from the available data sources.

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.