Reinventing Australian Agricultural Statistics
The Australian agricultural statistics system is in a process of evolution, but as yet is still in a far from ideal state. Data for the sector is often incomplete, out of date, and irrelevant or purposeless. There is an urgent need to improve the collection, analysis and timely provision of agricultural statistics by taking innovative, cooperative action to improve the way this information is gathered and distributed. Failure to do so will compound the existing problem of decisions and policy made in the absence of solid evidence.
Data collection is no longer the exclusive domain of Official Statistics Agencies (OSAs) – and indeed these agencies are unlikely to receive the increased resources required to enable them to address these complex data needs as well as meeting their current obligations.
Given the funding limitations, it is fair to say the current agricultural statistics portfolio reflects available OSA resources, rather than the actual needs of the sector. In a time when water management and the impacts of climate change on agriculture are issues of fundamental national importance, this situation is unacceptable. Sound decision-making requires informed understanding, which in turn requires a reinvention of the current Australian agricultural statistics system.
Efforts to improve official statistics in Australia are already underway following recent reviews. The ABS and ABARES have established programs to modernise and streamline operations. An increase in resources would ensure that these work programs maintain momentum, but the OSAs alone cannot reinvent the system.
In order for the sector to leave behind sole reliance on the five-yearly census process and move into a more responsive, accurate and granular system, the agriculture industry has a pivotal role to play in identifying needs and making available existing datasets which could serve those needs. The industry must collectively embrace this role to identify industry problems and opportunities, promote agriculture’s social licence, educate policy-makers on trends and requirements and to also build trust in the distribution and responsible use of data.
This report presents a framework for evaluation of data sources which could augment the existing agricultural statistics system, developed from a desktop study of available literature, and investigation of potential alternative data sources and methods of collection.