2020-21 Agricultural Census Topics and Data Release Plan

Presents topics to be collected on the 2020-21 Agricultural Census and plans of how and when data will be released



The 2020-21 Agricultural Census will reach over 100,000 agricultural businesses from July 2021. 

The information provided by these businesses will contribute to a broad range of statistics to support policy and planning by governments, industry, research organisations and regional communities.

This paper details what information will be collected on the 2020-21 Agricultural Census. It also outlines plans for the release of ABS Agriculture statistics for the 2020-21 reference year.

Topics collected

The ABS has reviewed information to be collected on the 2020-21 Agricultural Census to balance requirements of data users alongside the reporting burden imposed on agricultural businesses.

Content of the 2020-21 Agricultural Census has been informed by consultation with government and industry to reflect key national information priorities relevant to a wide range of data users.  Feedback from participants in ABS’ previous agriculture collections has also been considered, and priority given to topics that can be reported easily and accurately. This will ensure the production of high quality official statistics to support industry and provide benchmark data for future analysis.

Further information on how the final content for the 2020-21 Agricultural Census was determined is provided in the section "Process for prioritising content".

Topics to be collected on the 2020-21 Agricultural Census are:

  • Production of agricultural commodities
  • Use of land by agricultural businesses
  • Use of water by agricultural businesses.

A detailed list of data to be collected on the 2020-21 Agricultural Census is available from the 'Data downloads' section of this publication.

Data release plan

Data relating to all topics collected on the 2020-21 Agricultural Census listed will be released on the ABS website.

Additional data sourced from other ABS collections or derived from collected data will also be available for the 2020-21 reference year.

Topics for release in the ABS’ suite of 2020-21 Agricultural statistics will include:

  • Agricultural commodities; by volume of production, area of production or number of trees and yield by commodity
  • Use of land by agricultural businesses; including the area of holding and area of land used by purpose
  • Use of water by agricultural businesses; by volume and source of water - for totals and by selected commodities
  • Value of agricultural commodities produced - for totals and by selected commodities
  • Value of irrigated agricultural production - for totals and by selected commodities

Release of specific data items within these topics will be subject to both quality measures and confidentiality constraints, which are unknown until data is collected and processed.

Geographic outputs

Data will be released on the ABS website on a range of geographies for the suite of 2020-21 agriculture statistics (refer to Table 1). Available geography will vary across data topics, dependent on both quality measures and confidentiality constraints associated with the statistics.

Table 1. Geographic outputs - Updated 23 May 2022
 Production of agricultural commoditiesUse of land by agricultural businessesUse of water by agricultural businessesValue of agricultural commodities producedGross value of irrigated agricultural production
ABS Geographies released as standard 
State/Territory (S/T)YesYesYesYesYes
Statistical Area Level 4 (SA4)YesYesYesYesNo
Statistical Area Level 2 (SA2)YesYesYesYesNo
Additional non-ABS geographies to be released 
Local Government Areas (LGA)YesYesYesYesNo
Natural Resource Management Regions (NRM)YesYesYesYesYes
Murray Darling Basin (MDB)YesYesYesYesYes

Custom data on request

In addition to standard outputs from the suite of 2020-21 agriculture statistics available on the ABS website, custom data may be available on request. This may include data on agricultural production, land and water use for other non-ABS geographies or cross-classifications of data items included in the standard outputs.

Custom data would be provided on a cost recovery basis after standard outputs are released on the ABS website.

ABS’ ability to produce custom data will be subject to quality measures and confidentiality constraints associated with the statistics of interest.

Release schedule

Data from the 2020-21 Agricultural Census be released from 26 July 2022 onwards.

Statistics on the production of agricultural commodities including cereal and broadacre crops, fruit and vegetables and livestock on Australian farms will appear in the publication Agricultural Commodities, Australia.

Statistics on agricultural water use (including pastures and crops irrigated) and irrigation water sources will appear in the publication Water use on Australian Farms.

Statistics on the gross and local values of production of major agricultural commodities will appear in the publication Value of Agricultural Commodities Produced, Australia.

Statistics on the gross value of irrigated agricultural production will appear in the publication Water Account, Australia.

Process for prioritising content

In developing the content for the 2020-21 Agricultural Census, content from previous agricultural censuses, ABS’ annual agricultural surveys and proposed new content was assessed against a set of criteria intended to capture the key principles of an Agricultural Census. These criteria are consistent with those used to inform the 2021 Census of Population and Housing content review process. A detailed description of the criteria is included in Table 2.

A range of data users from the agriculture industry and across all levels of government provided input into this prioritisation process through targeted consultation conducted from July to September 2020. A planned public consultation process did not proceed due to the impacts of COVID-19 in Australia at that time. Organisations invited to participate in consultation were chosen to represent information needs across the agriculture industry.

Formal submissions were received from 21 organisations proposing 126 additional data items for collection. These proposed items were assessed against the criteria. Items assessed as suitable through this process have been be included for collection.

Table 2. Criteria for prioritising content
Assessment criteria 1: The topic is of current national importance.The Agricultural Census is an important asset for the nation. It needs to inform decisions across wide-reaching policy, programs and research so as to provide value to the entire population.
Assessment criteria 2: There is a need for data from each agriculture businessData collected through the Agricultural Census provides a snapshot of all agriculture businesses to better understand their business characteristics and activity. In addition, collecting data from all agricultural businesses enables more detailed regional statistics to be produced. The value of this data needs to be balanced with the burden that may be placed on agricultural businesses in providing this data, to assure the quality of response and statistics produced.
 It is important to consider whether data needs to be collected from all businesses to inform the data need, or whether estimates produced from a subset of these businesses may be fit for purpose.
Assessment criteria 3: The topic can be accurately collected in a form which the respondent completes themselvesThe Agricultural Census collects data through a survey form completed by agriculture businesses. If a topic is unlikely to be answered accurately using this method, the accuracy of statistics produced may be impacted. A topic is not suited to be collected through a survey form if it requires detailed explanation, requests information the respondent is unlikely to know, or is time-consuming to answer.
Assessment criteria 4: The topic would be acceptable to Agricultural Census respondentsResponse to questions in the Agricultural Census is dependent on the good will and trust of our providers. If a topic or question is considered intrusive, offensive or controversial, it is unlikely to be answered accurately. It may also impact on the likelihood to respond and the value of statistics produced.
Assessment criteria 5: There are no alternative data sources or solutions that could meet the topic need.The ABS is working toward identifying data sources that may complement and/or supplement traditional surveys to produce statistics, now or in the future, to effectively support decisions about regional communities and the agriculture industry.
Assessment criteria 6: The topic can be collected efficientlyThe ABS has a responsibility to manage collections in an efficient and cost-effective way. Factors such as the number of questions, the amount of instruction and explanation required to support the question, and how data can be compiled from answers will be considered in assessing suitability of content for inclusion in the Agricultural Census.

Topics not included

Not all topics identified through consultation have been included for collection on the 2020-21 Agricultural Census.

Consultation with data users highlighted a strong requirement for:

  • Supply chain data, such as labour and non-labour inputs and markets for output
  • Sustainability and planning data such as research and development activity, drought and biosecurity planning
  • Land management information such as land and soil management practices and use of fertilisers

While these topics are undoubtedly important in understanding agriculture in Australia, the 2020-21 Agricultural Census is not the most suitable source for these data and specific content relating to these topics has not been included.

However, to address these and other important information needs the ABS is working in partnership with government and industry towards a future where quality agriculture statistics are produced using a range of data sources and statistical methods. In this future model, a picture of Australian agriculture would be informed not only by data collected on a statistical survey form (e.g. Agricultural Census), but in conjunction with data collected for other purposes (e.g. levies data, earth observations data).

This approach will allow the ABS to:

  • Produce more timely statistics with greater regional detail to facilitate a holistic view of Australian agriculture
  • Reduce the reporting burden for farmers and agricultural businesses by maximising the use of alternative data sources
  • Publish a consistent set of critical agriculture statistics that form a foundation for understanding Australian agriculture

A case study of what can be achieved through a more dynamic approach to producing official statistics is demonstrated in Sugarcane, experimental regional estimates using new data sources and methods (cat. no. 7128.0). This release is the result of collaboration between the ABS, industry and government to develop a set of estimates of sugar cane production in 2019 using sugar cane levies data and satellite imagery. These experimental estimates were produced with no additional reporting burden on growers and at a level of geographic detail previously only released by the ABS using Agricultural Census data.

Scope, coverage and methodology of the 2020-21 Agricultural Census

The scope of the 2020-21 Agricultural Census is unchanged from the 2015-16 Agricultural Census.

All businesses undertaking agricultural activity recorded on the Australian Bureau of Statistics' Business Register (ABSBR) above a minimum threshold of $40,000 in Estimated Value of Agricultural Operations (EVAO) will be in scope for the 2020-21 Agricultural Census.

Further detail on the ABSBR, how agricultural activity is identified, and how EVAO is calculated is outlined in the "Methodology" page of the publication Agricultural Commodities, Australia

Next steps and further information

The finalisation of the 2020-21 Agricultural Census’ content would not have been possible without the support of partners across government and industry during the consultation process.  Over the coming year, ABS will continue working alongside these and other partners, as well as Australia’s agricultural businesses to produce the high quality official statistics expected from the Agricultural Census.

Further updates on the data release plan will be published as updates to this paper on the ABS website.

Feedback or questions in relation to the content and data release plan for the 2020-21 Agricultural Census and/or this paper can be made by contacting the Customer Assistance Service via the ABS website Contact Us page. The ABS Privacy Policy outlines how the ABS will handle any personal information that you provide to us.

Data Downloads

Criteria for prioritising content

Agricultural Census Content

Post-release changes (as at 23 May 2022)

23 May 2022 - Table 1 within the Introduction section has been updated to confirm which output geographies will be released. The Release schedule section has also been updated to confirm the release date for data from the 2020-21 Agricultural Census (to be released from 26 July 2022 onwards).

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