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AGRICULTURE SURVEY PROGRAM
The main ABS vehicles available for satisfying these objectives have been the annual Agricultural Survey, the five yearly Agricultural Census, and a range of supplementary monthly, quarterly and annual commodity and pricing surveys. Some limited financial data has been produced by the ABS on the Agriculture sector, including some experimental estimates produced using a new methodology incorporating data from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
The outputs of these collections provide an important source of data for the agriculture inputs to Australia's National Accounts, and are used extensively by ABARE, Bureau of Rural Sciences (BRS), Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and state and territory agriculture departments. The Value of Agricultural Commodities Produced (VACP) is considered to be critical to ABS' capacity to monitor the agricultural part of the economy through Australia's National Accounts. ABARE uses the results of the agricultural censuses and surveys to benchmark activity across regions, as input to assistance programs, and to support forecasting models. ABARE holds the legislative responsibility of suppling the 3 year average Gross Value of Production (GVP) data to DAFF each year to determine the Commonwealth government contribution to rural research and development corporations. To calculate the 3 year average GVP, ABARE uses ABS historical data and ABARE forecasts for the current year. DAFF and state and territory agencies use the data to help plan and manage the support services that they provide, including at times of natural disaster, to various sub-industry sectors and/or geographic regions.
Australia's agricultural industry is an extremely diverse industry. Inappropriate policies and practices in agriculture have the potential to affect a large proportion of the population, either directly through the quality and availability of food, or indirectly through impacts on Australia's physical and economic environment.
While it is true that Australian agriculture no longer contributes a large share to GDP (currently averaging around 3%), it does account for 65% of stored water use (Water Account, Australia, 2004-05 (cat. no. 4610.0)), and about 55% of Australia's land area (Agricultural Commodities, Australia, 2006-07 (cat. no. 7121.0)). Agriculture is also a significant contributor to Australia's exports, with food and fibre exports accounting for around 22% of total exports over recent years. In addition, the dependence of agriculture on Australia's unpredictable climate means it often affects regional and national economies on a scale far greater than most other industries of similar size. The Prime Minister identified these challenges in his address to the 2008 ABARE Outlook Conference and indicated one of his priorities was to lift productivity and competitiveness, and strengthen Australian agriculture in its performance in global markets.
FUNDING OF SURVEYS
Most of the ABS Agriculture Survey Program is funded from Australian Government appropriation to the ABS. However, this funding is augmented with funding from key data users to:
2007-08: ABS BUDGET PRESSURES AND THE AGRICULTURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT SURVEY
In October 2007, the Australian Government NRM (AGNRM) team approached the ABS about its requirements for a benchmark survey "aimed at supporting the building of a foundation of knowledge and information for the Natural Heritage Trust (NHT) Phase 3 program". The survey was to be developed to provide information on land management practices by farm businesses for practices identified as contributing to resource condition outcomes. The survey was to be a sub-sample of the 2007-08 Agriculture Survey so that key information, such as commodities and farm characteristics, could be linked to the resource management dataset.
In February 2008, the Australian Statistician announced a number of savings initiatives to address budgetary pressures affecting the ABS in the 2008-09 financial year. Amongst these saving initiatives was a $1 million reduction in funding for the conduct of the 2007-08 Agricultural Survey. This meant that a sample size of 35,000 and a 20 page form was no longer possible and a reduction in either or both sample size and/or content was required.
After consideration of available options, a decision was taken to combine the 2007-08 Agricultural Survey, which is ABS funded, with the user-funded benchmark survey. The resulting survey is known as the Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS). The ARMS is an integrated survey solution that meets the needs of multiple users for information on agricultural production, natural resource condition and agricultural practices.
The ABS-funded component collected information for a reduced set of agricultural commodities, water use and land-use as well as essential frame maintenance questions. It also provided continuity with past Agriculture Surveys/Census as far as possible. The following is a summary of the key changes to the set of agricultural commodities for 2007-08:
Commodities collected in the 2007-08 survey were based on their level of contribution to Value of Agriculture Commodities Produced (VACP) and GDP, and were determined in conjunction with the ABS National Accounts Branch and ABARE.
The user-funded component collected information on land management practices to provide a benchmark for monitoring and evaluation of NRM programs, specifically the Australian Government's 'Caring for Our Country' initiative. In addition to meeting essential requirements for agricultural commodity, land and water use data (i.e. national and state level estimates), the ARMS will provide:
Preliminary results from the ARMS survey were released on 14 November 2008, and final data will be released in May 2009.
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