Backgrounder: The Agricultural Census, Jun 2001

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June 13, 2001
Embargoed: 11:30 AM (AEST)

Backgrounder: The Agricultural Census

This census is directed towards Australia's 160,000 farmers. It is not to be confused with the Census of Population and Housing which occurs on the 7th of August and involves every Australian household.

The Agricultural Census is a vital part of ABS's statistical work. Its results provide the basis for informed decision making in government, business and the rural community.

The despatch of the Agricultural Census form to farmers and other agricultural businesses who are in the scope of the census began on 11 June and is expected to be completed by 20 June.

It is important that the rural community be informed about the census, and are encouraged to support it. Preliminary results will be available in October 2001, with final results being available in August 2002.

The Agricultural Census, in one form or another, has been conducted for over 140 years, and in fact is one of the oldest collections undertaken by the ABS. Early on, data was collected annually by each colony and reported back to England. Following Federation in 1901, data continued to be collected by each State. Much of these data are held in the ABS archives, some in consolidated leather bound books inscribed by hand with ink dipped pens on pages with hand drawn lines. These books provide a wonderful insight into the development of this vast country.

In some States in the early years, the job of "Census collector" was undertaken by the local police, and needless to say, response rates were excellent. Over the years, the State collections have become more integrated and now the census is conducted as a National collection, by mail. Concepts and definitions are consistent across all States to assist comparison and aggregation of data.

The census has seen many changes over the years, however basic information such as the number of livestock and volume of crops have continued to be collected on a consistent basis. The scope of the collection has changed slightly from time to time, largely in relation to the size of small farms to be excluded. Currently all farms with an estimated value of agricultural operations (EVAO) of $5000 or more are included.

While a set of core data has been consistently collected, a small number of questions are added and removed from the form as the ABS and its clients requirements change over time. Recent years has seen an increase in the number of questions relating to environmental issues and management practices.

A major change in recent years is the change in the frequency of the collection. Up to and including 1996/97 the Agricultural census was conducted annually at the end of March. At this time the ABS, driven largely by concerns relating to the effort on respondents to complete census forms, and to a lesser extent budget pressures, moved to its current strategy of an Agricultural census every five years with Agricultural Commodity Surveys in intervening years. The first Agricultural Commodity Survey was conducted in 1997/98. This census, originally planned for 2002, has been brought forward by twelve months to 2001, so that it coincides with the Census of Population and Housing from 2001 and onwards. This will facilitate analysis utilising data from the two collections.

Another very significant change is in relation to the reference period. Up until the 1999/2000 Agricultural Commodity Survey the collection reference period was 1 April to 31 March. In 1999/2000 it was decided to adopt a financial year reference period to reduce the burden on the farming community and to align the agricultural collections with other collections undertaken by the ABS. This change has proved popular with those farm businesses contacted as part of last years survey, and this year, as well as future years, will use the new reference period 1 July - 30 June.

Additional background is on Agricultural Census Home Page.

Copyright-free photographs (for Agricultural Census use only), audio clips, and media releases are at

Key contact numbers (Media Only) for the Agricultural Census are:

Steve Dangaard, Director, Media and Public Affairs Unit, Australian Bureau of Statistics
    Tel: 02 6252 7197 MOB: 0418 481 757

Allan Nicholls, Director, Agriculture, Mining and Manufacturing Section, Australian Bureau of Statistics
(Spokesperson for the census)
    Tel: 02 6252 5339 MOB/AH: 0409 152 608

Jim Williamson, Agricultural Census Project, Australian Bureau of Statistics
    Tel: 02 6252 5830 MOB/AH: 0429 460 087

Please note that farmers have access to a free call telephone number which is: 1800 647 011.