Improving agricultural crop statistics using satellite data

Explains a pilot project, working with Geoscience Australia, to develop agricultural crop maps and statistics using satellite data


Main features

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is working to modernise the way we produce agriculture statistics to quickly deliver information at regional scales and enable a holistic understanding of agriculture together with the environment and regional communities.

We are working with agriculture experts to co-design methods to integrate existing data from administrative, industry and satellite sources with traditional survey data. As well as improving the quality of information, this approach reduces the reporting burden on farmers and the agriculture industry. The recent release of experimental sugarcane statistics using data from the Sugar Cane Levy Payer Register is an example of this new approach.

Satellite images are a rich source of information that support a greater understanding of our changing physical environment. This Information paper sets out how the ABS is working with other government agencies to improve the way that satellite data is used to produce information about agriculture and the environment.

National maps on crops and land cover

Digital Earth Australia (DEA) is the platform that stores satellite data for Australia from which maps on crop and land cover can be created. The DEA infrastructure is hosted by Geoscience Australia.

In order to better understand the satellite data on DEA, the ABS are confidentially sharing de-identified agriculture data from past surveys with Geoscience Australia. This ABS data details the probable location of specific crops. It will help by increasing the amount and coverage of supplementary information available to Geoscience Australia to support machine-learning methods for distinguishing between different crops and land covers in the satellite data stored within DEA.

By improving the way satellite data is interpreted, Geoscience Australia will be able to create national maps showing where specific crops are grown each year. These will be important for producing better statistical information about agriculture and the environment. The maps will also be openly available to farmers, digital agriculture companies, researchers and government agencies to enable better on-farm and policy decisions.

How it works

1. ABS shares de-identified agriculture data with Geoscience Australia

2. This data is compared with satellite data stored within DEA

3. Machine-learning methods are developed to distinguish between different crops or land covers

4. Geoscience Australia uses this data to create regularly updated national coverage maps of crops and land cover

5. The maps are made available to users for farming and policy decisions and official statistics.

Benefits for the agricultural industry

  • Information produced more quickly and with greater regional detail for decision-making
  • Fewer questions for farmers to complete in surveys
  • Better assessment of impacts of natural disaster events such as fires, floods and cyclones
  • Improved farm decision-making information on crop suitability under changing conditions
  • Greater certainty for financial investment in agriculture through better crop yield estimates
  • Improved insurance products to support farmers risk management strategies through better crop yield estimates.

Data provided

The ABS collects a range of agricultural statistics on land use, crop and horticultural production, livestock numbers and farm management practices from farmers. The ABS is providing a subset of de-identified data from the Agricultural Census and the Rural Environment and Agricultural Commodities Surveys. This consists of basic information identifying the presence or absence of a particular crop grown on a particular land parcel. No production values are provided.


This information will be provided to Geoscience Australia under the Five Safes Framework, a secure method to manage the sharing of detailed statistical data. Under the principles of this framework, the data file contains no name or address information and users are required to sign an undertaking to use the information provided in an appropriate way.

Digital Earth Australia

Digital Earth Australia is a platform developed by Geoscience Australia, which holds continually updated images from satellites that extend back thirty years. The platform organises this data in a way that makes it easy for users to compare these images over time and with other data. Through this analysis, we can better understand characteristics of Australia’s built and natural environments, including how they are interacting and changing over time. More information can be found at

Next steps

This project is an important first step that positions the ABS and Geoscience Australia to create accurate and timely statistical data on Australia’s physical environment. Future projects will build upon this work and extend to the creation of other national maps and products.

More information

If you would like more information please email

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 7129.0.

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