7105.0 - ABS Agriculture Statistics Collection Strategy - 2008-09 and beyond, 2008-09  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 17/12/2008   
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Historically, the primary objective of the ABS agriculture survey program has been to provide high quality statistics which allow policy makers to develop and monitor policies to support and improve the performance of the agriculture sector. This has been achieved through a mixture of censuses and surveys which measure:

    • the level of agricultural production for all main commodities (at SLA level in census years and Statistical Division (SD)/ Natural Resource Management (NRM) level in survey years);
    • the value of agricultural production for all main commodities (at SLA level in census years and SD/NRM level in survey years);
    • the change in level and value of agricultural production for all main commodities between years; and
    • the financial performance of agricultural businesses (from the Agriculture Finance Survey).
    In the past the ABS Agriculture Finance Survey provided financial year estimates of turnover, expenditure, value added, cash operating surplus, value of selected assets, capital expenditure, indebtedness and net worth of farm businesses. Each of these items was classified by 13 agricultural industries for each State and Australia. This survey was last conducted in 1999-2000, thereafter providing the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) key responsibility for the collection of annual financial statistics for the broadacre and the dairy industries from their ABARE farm surveys.

    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.


    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:
      • support increased frequency and/or data content of ongoing surveys in the program
      • cover the costs of undertaking additional surveys
      • increase sample size, to increase the reliability of the estimates.


    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:
      • crops - 5 major cereal crops plus sugar cane, cotton lint and canola were collected (compared to 21 crops in the 2006-07 Ag Survey);
      • vegetables - 5 key vegetables: area and production only (compared with 47 varieties plus numerous outdoor/undercover splits in the 2006-07 Ag Survey);
      • fruit and nuts - 8 individual commodities (compared with 29 commodities/splits in the 2006-07 Ag Survey); and
      • livestock - predominantly breeding stock numbers and 'other' total for each of the livestock categories, 13 data items in total. This compares with 55 plus data items including sales/disposal in the 2006-07 Ag Survey.

    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:
        • benchmark information related to intermediate outcomes for 'Matters for Target' (as identified in the National Framework for Natural Resource Management Standards and Targets) against which changes can be measured during the 'Caring for Our Country' program. This will enable natural resource program managers to assess the effectiveness of programs and initiatives;
        • identification of regions and industries where investment in improving capacity to adopt the most appropriate practices will give the best returns i.e. best returns likely to be in cases where adoption is low, especially if reasons for the low adoption rate can be identified; and
        • key commodity information, land and water use data at regional (NRM) levels.

      Preliminary results from the ARMS survey were released on 14 November 2008, and final data will be released in May 2009.