Sugarcane, experimental regional estimates using new data sources and methods

Latest release

Experimental statistics on sugarcane for 2020, highlighting the use of alternative data sources and methods for producing agriculture statistics

Reference period
2020-21 financial year

Key statistics

  • 31.1 million tonnes of sugarcane were produced in 2020.
  • 355 thousand hectares were harvested for sugarcane milling.
  • 3,830 sugarcane businesses produced sugarcane.
  • 7.3 million tonnes of sugarcane were produced in the Burdekin Statistical Area Level 2 (SA2), which is the largest sugarcane producing SA2 in Australia. 

Using new data sources and methods to produce more timely and detailed agricultural statistics

The ABS is partnering with industry and other stakeholders to co-design methods to produce agriculture statistics using new data sources.

Traditionally, agriculture statistics are produced by the ABS through an annual agricultural survey or a five yearly agricultural census.

These experimental sugarcane statistics demonstrate that these new data sources can produce accurate and more timely statistics at a level of regional detail normally only available from an agricultural census. In addition, less reliance on surveys and censuses to produce agriculture statistics can reduce reporting burden for farmers.

The ABS plans to adopt this approach to produce future official sugarcane statistics, pending feedback on this release. This will include the eventual removal of sugarcane questions from the agricultural survey. More information on the approach is provided in this publication, and feedback to further refine it is welcomed.  

Work is underway to extend this approach to use administrative data for other agricultural statistics, initially focussing on statistics for broadacre crops.

If you are interested in being part of the conversation about modernising the production of official agriculture statistics please get in touch via email:

Sugarcane, experimental statistics

These experimental sugarcane statistics for production, area of harvest and business counts are produced by combining Levy Payers Register administrative data with satellite derived crop mapping.

The method used ensures the statistics align with the totals reported by the Australian Sugar Milling Council (ASMC) at the national level and within the 5 main ASMC sugarcane producing regions.

The ABS experimental statistics provide additional regional detail within the ASMC regions using Statistical Area Level 4 (SA4) and Statistical Area Level 2 (SA2) regions. This additional regional detail enables insights to be drawn into the importance of sugarcane to the regional communities where it is grown.

Production experimental statistics

In 2020, 31.1 million tonnes of sugarcane were harvested for sugar milling in Australia (up 3% from 2019).

Of the major sugarcane producing SA4s:

  • Townsville was the biggest sugarcane producer with 12.2 million tonnes.
  • Cairns recorded the largest increase in production, up 12% (or 679,500 tonnes) in 2020.
  • Wide Bay (which includes Bundaberg) had the largest decrease, down 14% (or 375,400 tonnes) in 2020. 
  • Over half of Australia’s sugarcane harvest (17.6 million tonnes) was from the top five producing SA2s, all located in Queensland.
  • Burdekin is the largest sugarcane producing SA2 in Australia with 7.3 million tonnes.

Area harvested experimental statistics

The area of sugarcane harvested for milling in Australia in 2020 was 355,326 hectares.

  • Townsville, Mackay-Isaac-Whitsunday, and Cairns SA4s accounted for 83.5% of the total area of sugarcane harvested in 2020. 

  • In 2020, Burdekin SA2 had the largest area of sugarcane harvested (67,304 hectares).

Counts of businesses experimental statistics

3,830 businesses produced sugarcane in 2020.

  • Just over half of all sugarcane producing businesses in 2020 were located in the Mackay-Isaac-Whitsunday and Townsville SA4s.
  • In 2020, Burdekin SA2 recorded the most sugarcane producing businesses (444).

How these experimental estimates have been created

The 2020 experimental estimates for sugarcane have been produced primarily using administrative data sourced from the Sugar Cane Levy Payers Register.

This data is collected on behalf of Sugar Research Australia (SRA) by the Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment (DAWE). The Sugar Cane Levy Payers Register contains details of the quantity of sugarcane delivered to a processing establishment and business address information for all producers during the harvest period. This data was aggregated to produce regional SA2 statistics.

The Sugar Cane Levy Payers Register data was rescaled to match ASMC sugarcane production data for five ASMC sugarcane producing regions; Northern, Herbert-Burdekin, Mackay-Proserpine, Southern (all in Queensland) and New South Wales.

Maps derived from satellite data identifying areas where sugarcane was grown in 2020, produced by the Queensland Department of Environment and Science and DAWE, were used to geospatially validate, and reallocate levy payer records. Refer to the Methodology section of this publication for more information.

Production estimation method extended to produce area harvested and business count statistics

Area harvested estimates are based on the data provided to sugar mills for sugarcane harvested during the 2020 season. The total cropping area for sugarcane is not reflected in these experimental estimates, as not all sugarcane is harvested each season. 

Area harvested estimates were calculated using the area of sugarcane identified in the crop mapping datasets within each SA2. This was rescaled to align with the area harvested for the larger ASMC regional areas.

Business counts were created using the number of levy payer records allocated to each SA2. This was rescaled to align with the total number of businesses reported by the ASMC.

This total for count of businesses aligns with the ASMC count of sugarcane producing businesses, but it is higher than the number of sugarcane businesses typically reported through the ABS agricultural survey. This is because the ABS agricultural survey only includes businesses which have an estimated value of agricultural operations of $40,000 or more per annum.

Understanding the accuracy of the experimental estimates

Comparison between the sugar cane levy payers register and the ASMC data sources at the national level for both 2019 and 2020 showed that production was within 0.01%. This alignment reflects consistent reporting by the sugar mills and indicates that the levy payers register – the main data source for these experimental estimates - captures all sugarcane production in Australia each season. More detail on the alignment between these data sources is outlined in the Methodology section of this publication.

The 2019 sugarcane experimental estimates have also been compared with the 2019-20 ABS official sugarcane statistics (produced from the ABS agricultural survey). This comparison at the SA4 level – the lowest regional output level from the ABS agricultural survey - demonstrates close alignment between the sugarcane production statistics produced using the experimental method and the existing survey method.

When the ABS official sugarcane statistics for 2020-21 are published in mid-2022, a comparison with the 2020 sugarcane experimental estimates can be made.

  • The 2019 experimental estimates for sugarcane production at the SA4 level are all within the 95% confidence interval of the ABS agricultural survey data, except for Coffs Harbour - Grafton.

Interactive map showing production of sugarcane by Statistical Area Level 2

Click here

This map uses data contained in Sugarcane, experimental regional estimates using new data sources and methods, 2020-21.

How to use

  • Navigating topics: maps can be selected via the drop-down menu (mobile devices) or the tabs (larger screens).
  • Search: opens the search function. It is set to look for locations such as addresses, suburbs and postcodes contained within an SA2.
  • Data: an SA2 region can be selected to view the underlying data. Data for all SA2s can be found in the Data download section of this publication.
  • If the maps do not load successfully, please try refreshing this page.

More information

Data downloads

Changes to Excel file format on the ABS website

In line with updating to more recent technology formats, the ABS will progressively transition to releasing Excel files in the .XLSX format. This means that all data cubes in future experimental estimates for sugarcane, and other agricultural commodities will be progressively upgraded from .XLS files to .XLSX files.

While this change will improve usability, it may also require changes to automated macros or similar programs that users may have in place that call on the current file extension format.

This change will take effect in the Sugarcane, experimental regional estimates using new data sources and methods, 2020-21 financial year publication. Previously released data will not change.

Sugarcane, experimental regional estimates using new data sources and methods, 2020-21

Data cube updated 30/10/2023

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 7128.0.

Post release changes

30/10/23 Correction to SA2 data in Table 1 of Data download

01/12/21 Link added for interactive map and data cube updated.


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