ABS lifts its beef herd estimation, sheep to follow

Sheep Central June 17, 2024

How many sheep are there in Australia? The ABS is going to have another stab.

THE nation’s sheep industry is waiting for a revised government assessment of its flock size, following the Australian Bureau of Statistics radically altering its assessment of beef herd size at 30 June 2023.

Following changes in data collection and methodology, the ABS last week released its revised herd size estimate to the end of June last year as 27.8 million head, 3.4 million head or 14 percent higher than its previous estimate was 24.4 million.

At June 30 2022, the last time it estimated the national flock size, the ABS calculated Australia’s sheep numbers as 70.2 million, whereas Meat & Livestock Australia’s estimate was 76 million. MLA has estimated Australia’s flock size was 78.7 million sheep at 30 June last year.

The beef herd adjustment comes after widespread and sustained criticism over the past two years about the accuracy and reliability of industry and government herd estimates.

The new herd estimate, based on cattle inflows and outflows, is now within four percent of MLA’s own national 2023 herd estimates. There was recognition that the industry could not be processing 7-8 million head each year, based on the earlier, more moderate herd sizes being reported.

The reason for the change in measurement is the abandonment of beef producer surveys carried out previously (partly due to poor stakeholder responses), in favour of newer modelling techniques and data sources.

In addition, ABS surveys previously did not take into account cattle held by smaller producers whose ‘value of agricultural operations’ (ie turnover) did not reach $40,000 a year. The ABS also was not taking into account smaller sheep producers in their flock size estimations.

ABS has labelled its new herd estimate as ‘experimental’, but only because the ABS intends to further refine the approach utilising additional data sources and further input from industry experts.

ABS’s revised estimates of a herd of 27.8 million beef cattle on holding at 30 June 2023, represents an  an increase of 4.6pc from an adjusted figure for the previous 2022 year, following favourable seasonal conditions in most cattle regions.

In a statement issued as part of the revised herd figures release, ABS said as a result of the introduction of new new sources and methods, the beef cattle and total cattle herd estimates for the 2023 year were higher than estimates previously published by the ABS using farm surveys which did not include cattle held on smaller farms.

The new assessment methodology is now calculated using a similar approach to that of the ABS Estimated Resident Population (ERP), taking closing stock from the previous period, adding population inflows (using existing non-ABS data sources to estimate new calves), subtracting population exits (slaughter, live exports and on farm deaths), to arrive at closing stock in the current period, the Bureau said.

The ABS last week said it is modernising the way it collects agriculture data with an administrative data-first approach.

“As a result, the cattle herd estimates are no longer calculated using a directly collected survey, rather they have been calculated using a new modelled approach that uses a range of new data sources.”

As part of the modelling process, the ABS engaged with external data providers and commonwealth, state and territory agricultural departments to help ensure the accuracy of estimates by identifying, investigating, and rectifying improbable calf numbers within the herd, it said.

A red meat statistics working group comprised of industry and government experts supported the development of the experimental estimates of cattle numbers, the bureau said.

The ABS was continuing to work with the red meat statistics working group to further refine the estimate of the number of cattle in Australia as it gains access to additional data sources over the next 18 months.

A similar process is being used to develop an estimate of the number of sheep in Australia for the Australian Agriculture: Livestock 2023-24 release.


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