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Agriculture performance results

Our objectives

Increase, improve and maintain markets

Performance criterion: The trend in value of agricultural exports increases in real terms over time


The real value of agricultural commodity exports (adjusted for inflation) exceeds the average real value of the previous 10 years


Department of Agriculture Portfolio Budget Statements 2019–20, p.26

Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.13



In 2019–20 the value of exports is forecast to be $52.4 billion, which is above the 10-year average to 2018–19 of $49.5 billion. The 10-year average is based on ABARES and Australian Bureau of Statistics data and reported in real (2019–20 constant dollar) terms (Figure 5).

Figure 5 Value of exports in real terms, 2008–09 to 2019–20 A line graph showing the 10-year trend in agricultural commodity exports, using 2019-20 constant dollar terms, compared to the 10-year average of $49.5 billion. The graph shows values ranging from a low of $38.4 billion in 2009-10 to a high of $56.2 billion in 2016-17. The forecast result for 2019-20 is $52.4 billion.
a ABARES forecast

Agricultural exports include fisheries and forestry exports. Agricultural products are divided into farm-based agricultural commodities and processed products. Commodities include crops, livestock, wool and horticulture. Processed agricultural products include meat, dairy products, beverages such as wine and spirits, and processed fruit and vegetables. Fisheries products include edible fish, crustaceans and molluscs and non-edible manufactured fisheries products. Forest products include wood and wood-based products, paper and paperboard, paper manufactures, pulp and woodchips.

ABARES reports on agricultural, fisheries and forestry exports in its quarterly Agricultural Commodities report and annual Agricultural Commodity Statistics report.

Encourage agricultural productivity

Performance criterion: Portfolio industries report an increase in productivity


Average annual productivity growth for the past 10 years is equal to or exceeds average annual market sector productivity growth over the same period


Department of Agriculture Portfolio Budget Statements 2019–20, p.26

Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.13


Not achieved

Over the past 10 years, average annual productivity growth for the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors was –0.4%. This was lower than annual market sector productivity growth, because adverse seasonal conditions affected agriculture in 2017–18 and 2018–19. Market sector productivity growth averaged 0.33% per year over 10 years to 2019–20.

Total factor productivity has been chosen as the measure of productivity and is calculated on a value-added basis. Average total factor productivity growth was used at the beginning of the 10-year period to mitigate the influence of seasonal volatility at the beginning of the period. The data are sourced from the Australia Bureau of Statistics, with a forecast for 2019–20. Agricultural productivity is susceptible to volatility due to seasonal conditions. Drought conditions in 2017–18 and 2018–19 have also influenced the result significantly.

Support sustainable, high-quality natural resources

Performance criterion: The quality of the resource base is maintained or improved


The status and productivity of agricultural land, water resources and Commonwealth fisheries is at least maintained, accounting for seasonal variations

Yearly measures

Sufficient water is registered to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to Bridge the gap including 62 GL of efficiency measures to allow the full supply contribution of 605 GL to be utilised

The percentage of fish stocks solely managed by the Commonwealth that are not overfished

Sufficient ground cover to maintain the area of agricultural land protected from soil erosion above a threshold throughout the year


Department of Agriculture Portfolio Budget Statements 2019–20, p.27

Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.13


Partially achieved


We continued to see progress on water recovery towards bridging the gap to meet the sustainable diversion limits (SDLs) in the Murray–Darling Basin Plan. Further recovery through efficiency measures is also required to meet the 62 GL target to allow the full supply contribution to be used.

The Australian Government is continuing to work with Basin state governments. All factors affecting the achievement of water recovery targets are being monitored. Water resource plans (WRPs) from the ACT, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria have all been accredited. The Murray–Darling Basin Authority is assessing all 20 of the NSW WRPs. The plans are an essential part of securing the long-term sustainable water management across the Basin.

Basin states have been updating factors (known as cap factors) that are used to compare different classes of water entitlements and to calculate the volumes of water recovered. The process of updating cap factors is affecting the remaining water recovery volumes. The outcome will not be known until all state WRPs are finalised.

At 30 June 2020 water entitlements of 2,028.3 GL of surface water had been secured or agreed in funding contracts for bridging the gap to the SDLs in the Basin Plan. Of this, 1,938.5 GL is registered and held with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH). Basin states have recovered 160 GL, which is not held by the CEWH. All water figures are in long-term average annual yield terms.

In 2019–20 the remaining surface water recovery task to achieve the Basin Plan target was influenced by several factors, including the accreditation of Victorian and South Australian WRPs and their updated cap factors. The remaining water recovery task remains uncertain in New South Wales until all WRPs are accredited.

Water recovery activities in 2019–20 included the launch of the revised Water Efficiency Program to progress the recovery of additional environmental water. The revised program takes into account the additional socio-economic criteria agreed at the December 2018 meeting of the Murray–Darling Basin Ministerial Council.

At 31 March 2020, 1.9 GL of efficiency measures had been recovered, counting towards the 62 GL efficiency measures target. A minimum of 62 GL of efficiency measures must be recovered for the full 605 GL supply contribution to take effect. The Basin Plan limits by which amount that SDLs can be adjusted. The adjustment mechanism means the limit can only be adjusted up or down by a maximum of 5% (around 543 GL).

At 30 June 2020 the CEWH holds 35.2 GL to help bridge the gap to the ground water SDL. In 2019–20 we completed a series of successful tenders to recover ground water in Queensland. All water has been registered and is held by the CEWH.

Snapshot: Growing fisheries and aquaculture

In 2019 the Australian Government committed to supporting recreational, commercial and Indigenous fishers and the aquaculture sector. We have been delivering on these commitments in partnership with our stakeholders.

The National Fisheries Plan sets out a pathway to grow Australia's fisheries and aquaculture sectors through sustainable development, increased environmental performance and social licence. We are working with the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, the National Fishing Advisory Council and the states and the Northern Territory to develop the plan. We expect to release it for public consultation in early 2021.

We are working with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and key representative bodies to deliver capacity-building training to help commercial, recreational, and Indigenous representatives participate in the Commonwealth fisheries management process. This includes identifying areas of focus, developing training materials and understanding the optimal delivery and extension approaches. The project will be delivered from 2020 to 2023.

We are working with recreational fishing groups and the Landcare Regional Land Partnership service providers to deliver the Fisheries Habitat Restoration Program. The program will provide habitat restoration services to support productive and sustainable fisheries in coastal and marine areas. These services will benefit recreational fishing groups by involving them in projects that support healthier waters and increase their fishing experience.

State and territory governments are supporting a national project agreement to deliver the Recreational Fishing and Camping Facilities Fund. The fund will directly benefit and increase people's experience of boating, fishing and camping by supporting projects to improve, maintain or build infrastructure.


The percentage of fish stocks solely managed by the Commonwealth that are not overfished increased from 74% in 2017 to 75% in 2018.

The percentage of stocks classified as 'uncertain if overfished' fell from 15% in 2017 to 14% in 2018. The number of stocks that were overfished remained unchanged (Figure 6).

Figure 6 Australian managed fish stocks, 2004 to 2018 A line graph showing the number of Australian managed fish stocks that were classified as Not overfished, Uncertain if overfished, or Overfished. The graph shows an upward trend in the number of stocks that were not overfished, from 11 in 2004 to 49 in 2018. The number of stocks classified as Uncertain if overfished has fallen from 38 in 2007 to 9 in 2018. The number of stocks that were overfished has fallen from a high of 11 in 2005 to 7 in 2014, and has remained at 11 through to 2018.
Notes: Based on the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) Fishery Status Reports 2019. Status is assessed retrospectively for the previous year.

Agricultural land

This indicator measures the area of agricultural land protected from soil erosion above a threshold throughout the year.

Table 4 shows that the annual wind and water erosion protection targets were not met in 2019–20, because the proportion of agricultural land area protected from erosion fell below the thresholds during that period.

Table 4 Agricultural land protected from soil erosion, Australia, 2019–20


National area threshold (% area protected)

Number of months area threshold not met

Number of years over period 2001 to 2018 with more months below the area threshold a

Wind erosion protection




Water erosion protection




a 2019–20 was worse than any year in the period 2001 to 2018

Figure 7 and Figure 8 show the results for 2019–20 against the target and median from 2001 to 2018.

Figure 7 Agricultural land protected from wind erosion, by percentage, Australia, monthly, 2019–20, and median and range, 2001 to 2018 A line graph showing percentages of Australian agricultural land protected from wind erosion, against a target threshold of 61%. The graph shows that the percentage in 2019-20 varied from around 75% in July 2019 to a low of 49% in December 2019. The year ended with a percentage of 76%. The percentage for the year was consistently below the median for 2001 to 2018 and at the bottom end of the range for 2001 to 2018.
Target is that more than 61% of Australia's agricultural land is protected from wind erosion for all months in the reporting period.

Figure 8 Agricultural land protected from water erosion, by percentage, Australia, monthly, 2019–20, and median and range, 2001 to 2018 A line graph showing percentages of Australian agricultural land protected from water erosion, against a target threshold of 30%. The graph shows that the percentage in 2019-20 varied from around 40% in July 2019 to a low of 23% in January 2019. The year ended with a percentage of 41%. The percentage for the year was consistently below the median for 2001 to 2018 and at the bottom end of the range for 2001 to 2018.
Target is that more than 30% of Australia's agricultural land is protected from water erosion for all months in the reporting period.

The results were affected by rainfall deficiencies across much of Australia from 2018 until late January 2020 (Figure 9). For more information about rainfall deficiencies see the Bureau of Meteorology Annual Climate Statement 2019. Large areas of Australia were also affected by fires, particularly during the summer of 2019–20.

Figure 9 Agricultural land median rainfall, Australia, monthly, 2019–20, and median and range, 2001 to 2018 A line graph showing median rainfall in 2019-20 compared to the median and range in 2001 to 2018. Median rainfall in 2019-20 ranged from 11 millimetres in July 2019 to as high as 96 millimetres in February 2020. In January 2020 median rainfall rose above the median for 2001 to 2018 and remained in the middle of the range through to June 2020.

The Australian Government is investing up to $450 million under the Regional Land Partnerships (RLP) program, which is part of the National Landcare Program. Natural resource management service providers will be funded to deliver on-ground environment and sustainable agriculture projects over 5 years, from June 2018 to July 2023. Improving soil condition is a key investment priority. At the mid-point (2021) and the end of the program (2023) the RLP program will monitor and report on ground cover as a key indicator for soil condition at a regional scale.

We are also investing more than $36 million through the RLP program to support Regional Agricultural Landcare Facilitators across Australia. The facilitators work to support farmers, industry and community groups to adopt new and innovative sustainable agricultural practices.

Up to $135.9 million is being invested under the Smart Farms program, another component of the National Landcare Program. Funding will support the development and uptake of best practice, tools and technologies that help farmers, fishers, foresters and regional communities improve the protection, resilience and productive capacity of our soils, water and vegetation. This in turn supports successful primary industries and regional communities. Smart Farms focuses on protecting and improving the condition of soil, vegetation and biodiversity and helping producers adapt agricultural systems to address change.

The Smart Farms program is providing a total of $56.7 million for projects with a focus on soils. Funding is being distributed through Smart Farms Small Grants, Smart Farming Partnerships and Building Landcare Community and Capacity. These projects fund soils activities such as ground cover management under a range of farming systems, soil pH and soil health, which all contribute to reducing wind and water erosion through improved ground cover of agricultural soils.

Our functions

Regulation and service delivery

Performance criterion: Effective intervention on compliance pathways


Rates of compliance with regulations administered by the department are maintained or improved


Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.15


Partially achieved

Biosecurity screening

The post-intervention compliance rate is the percentage of international mail articles and air passengers that were compliant after intervention. The rates (Table 5) show the department's effectiveness at promoting and enforcing compliance in these pathways.

Table 5 Post-intervention compliance rate, 2014–15 to 2019–20

Reporting period

International mail (%)

Air passengers a (%)



















a Travel restrictions related to COVID-19 reduced the number of air passengers entering Australia, particularly from April 2020 onwards. This change from the overall annual trend affects the reliability of data during these months, but it has not had a significant effect over the year.

Snapshot: Working with our neighbours to manage the spread of African swine fever

The past year has seen the spread of the contagious viral disease African swine fever (ASF) to our near neighbours. In September 2019 Timor-Leste reported the disease near its capital, Dili. In March 2020 Papua New Guinea (PNG) confirmed ASF as the cause of hundreds of pig deaths in its Southern Highlands.

The ASF response is being led by the countries' veterinary bodies, Timor-Leste's Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) and PNG's National Agriculture and Quarantine Inspection Authority (NAQIA). We sent 2 veterinary officers to Timor-Leste in October 2019 to support MAF's response, but in 2020 COVID-19 has presented challenges for ASF containment and the type of assistance we can offer. In a transition to remote support, we are maintaining communication with MAF and NAQIA through a variety of channels including regular coordinator teleconferences.

NAQIA's response efforts have included delimitation surveys to determine disease spread and using road checkpoints to restrict pig movements from the current disease zones.

We continue to support MAF and NAQIA with financial resources, technical advice, capacity-building and laboratory services through the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness.

Containing ASF poses unique challenges for both countries, pigs being an important form of wealth storage and symbols of prestige within village communitie.

We will continue to support MAF and NAQIA to develop and maintain testing and diagnostic capabilities, conduct surveys and analyse results, and develop communication materials to inform pig producers and their communities about what to do if they suspect their pigs have contracted ASF.

Imported food safety

In 2019–20 the overall compliance rate for imported food inspections was 98.4%, compared with 98.3% for 2018–19. The compliance rate has remained steady.

The compliance rate is measured using pass or fail results. Imported food officers record the results in our import management system. For more information about the compliance rate see imported food inspection data on our website.

Live animal exports

We are committed to ensuring compliance with the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS). The system aims to ensure the humane treatment and handling of Australian livestock from arrival in an importing country to the point of slaughter. Since the implementation of ESCAS in July 2011, more than 25 million animals have been exported to 26 countries under the system.

In 2019–20 we received 17 reports of alleged regulatory infringements. Of these, 13 were self-reports by exporters and 4 were made by third parties. We have completed investigations into 15 of these reports.

Our response to investigation findings included removing facilities from approved supply chains and requiring exporters to provide further information about proposed exports. In some cases we applied additional conditions to export approvals, set further reconciliation requirements to account for animals in supply chains, and required exporters to provide more training to improve animal handling practices.

While undertaking investigations, our officers may need to communicate with relevant parties on multiple occasions over an extended period. This often requires us to make numerous requests for information and can considerably extend the time taken to complete an investigation. Information provided is often incomplete and may identify new issues for investigation.

Illegal logging

In 2019–20 we recorded around 20,000 importers of regulated timber products worth $7.8 billion. Imports included approximately 2 million lines of product that were imported in more than 200,000 consignments from 128 countries. The self-declared compliance rate was 80%, compared with 82% in 2018–19.

Where self-declaration indicates non-compliance, we may use this information to request the importer provide their due diligence process for a compliance-based audit.

In January 2018 we ended our 'soft start' compliance approach to the illegal logging prohibition regulations. During the soft start, we did not enforce civil and criminal penalties associated with due diligence. Since then the compliance rate has increased from 77% to 80%. Our assessment is that compliance rates have been maintained.

We also conduct due diligence assessments of importers. In this area, compliance rates rose from around 10% in 2017, during the soft start period, to around 75% in 2019–20.

Water efficiency labelling and standards

The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme aims to reduce demand for potable water by setting standards for a range of regulated water-using appliances, fixtures and fittings.

In 2019–20 WELS compliance activities continued to focus on internet-based sales. We used escalation action to address non-compliance and conducted all inspections and follow-up enforcement actions in accordance with the WELS Compliance and Enforcement Policy.

Non-compliance is addressed initially through a direct contact educational approach. If that is unsuccessful, we issue non-statutory warning letters.

If non-compliance persists, we send the supplier a notice of intent to use statutory powers under the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005. We then give the supplier a coercive remedial action notice.

After issuing 8 warning letters between July 2018 and June 2020, we have recorded nearly 90% compliance. The non-compliance associated with one notice of intent to give a coercive notice was successfully resolved without the need to issue a remedial action notice.

In 2018–19 the WELS regulator commenced civil litigation proceedings in the Federal Court against a non-compliant. This matter remains active.

Table 6 summarises case management and escalation action results.

Table 6 WELS website assessments and store inspections, compliance intervention effectiveness 2018–19 and 2019–20


2018–19 a


Case management

Cases opened in reporting period



Cases carried over from previous period



Cases closed because compliance was achieved b



Cases remaining open at end of reporting period



Early escalation stages c

Warning letters sent



Compliance achieved after warning letter sent d



Notice of intent to give coercive notice sent



Compliance achieved after notice of intent sent



Escalation to statutory actions

Remedial Action Notices given



Compliance achieved after Remedial Action Notice given



Civil litigation



a Adjusted to include additional cases that should have been allocated to the previous year and minor issues with automated calculations and reporting. b Cases may also be closed because the business ceased operating, was subject to litigation, was referred to another agency or stopped supplying WELS products. c Includes non-statutory activities to achieve compliance. d Some cases where compliance was achieved relate to cases where warning letters were sent during previous periods.

We have achieved compliance in online marketplaces through a combination of direct contact with online sellers and collaborative intervention with online marketplace administrators. Table 7 shows the result of compliance activities in online marketplaces.

Table 7 WELS compliance activities in online marketplaces 2018–19 and 2019–20 a


2018–19 b


Cases opened in the reporting period



Cases carried over from the previous period



Cases closed because compliance was achieved



Open cases at the end of the reporting period



a 'Online marketplaces' refers to websites that facilitate shopping from many different sources, such as eBay or Amazon. b Adjusted to include additional cases that should have been allocated to the previous year, and minor issues with automated calculations and reporting.

In 2019–20, 34,481 products (including 22,951 products and 7,001 product variants such as colour options) were registered. This included 4,532 ceasing registrations that expired on 21 July 2020. At 30 June 2019, 30,905 products were registered, including 5,522 variants and 3,045 ceasing registrations.

More than 434 manufacturers, importers and wholesalers registered products.

The increase in registrations is partly because of compliance activities that increase the awareness among manufacturers and sellers about the WELS scheme and its requirements.

Performance criterion: Continuous improvement in regulatory practices


The department implements its regulatory practice framework


Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.15


Partially achieved

In 2018–19 we commenced work on a regulatory practice framework to strengthen our regulatory capability and culture. In 2019–20 we made progress on initiatives aimed at maturing departmental regulatory practice. This included commencing the development of a regulatory practice statement (RPS).

The RPS will identify the department as a principles-based regulator to staff and the broader public. It will guide the approach for our regulatory systems. The RPS will focus on achieving regulatory outcomes and improving effectiveness through deliberate engagement and partnership with regulated industries and participants.

Progress on the RPS was delayed following the machinery of government changes to establish the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. Subject to further internal and external engagement, we expect to implement the RPS during the first half of 2020–21.

Performance criterion: Business processes and services are improved through the better use of modern technology and improved work practices


Agreed standards are met


Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.15


Partially achieved

In 2019–20 we met or exceeded our targets across 17 of 34 service standards:

  • Client contact services – 3 of 3 met.
  • Import services – 3 of 7 met and 2 partially met.
  • Export services – 7 of 8 met and one partially met.
  • Live animal export services – 5 of 16 met and 2 partially met.

For more information about our service standards performance, see Appendix E: Service standards.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected our ability to achieve stated performance standards across a range of services, as we changed our operations to meet pandemic requirements and ensure the health and safety of our people.

In January 2020 we updated our process for booking inspections by phone and email. This made the process more efficient and helped reduce waiting times. As a result, our performance against this standard has reached 100%, exceeding the 95% target.

In import services our performance on the inspection of goods varied by state, and we did not meet the target in New South Wales and Victoria. We have taken steps to improve our performance. These include recruiting additional frontline biosecurity officers and building our capability to flexibly deploy staff to meet changing demands. We are working with industry to pilot technologies to carry out virtual inspections and are using data analytics to identify appointments that can be rescheduled to bring inspections back within our service standard.

We also delivered a supermarket priority pathway arrangement under the government's Supermarket Taskforce. This provided streamlined regulatory clearance to meet increased consumer demand for imported food and dry grocery items.

A change to our plant export Authorised Officer application process enabled us to receive assessment tools in several formats, including electronic versions via email and hard copy through the post. As a result our processing times for issuing deed of obligations has improved and we met all of our plant export services targets.

In live animal export services, performance fell compared with 2018–19. This was partly the result of the time taken for applicants to address unsatisfactory elements of their applications. Most applications require some amendment during this process, which can delay approvals. We also introduced a new system to record performance against these standards, which affected the results.

Snapshot: Cut flower imports

The biosecurity risk for Australia has changed significantly since we began importing flowers almost 50 years ago. During this time, the numbers of live pests arriving on imported flowers has increased with continued growth in import volumes and changes to source countries.

To ensure Australia's biosecurity status remains protected, we assessed the historic performance and risks of cut flower and foliage imports, changed import conditions to reduce pest approach rates and engaged source countries and importers to strengthen compliance.

Around 540 species of arthropod pests associated with the cut flower trade are of biosecurity concern for Australia.

We now require the risks posed by these pests to be managed before flowers arrive at Australia's border. This means that importers must source flowers from suppliers with strong in-country pest management systems. Overseas governments must certify that the flowers are free of live pests before they are shipped.

Under further changes introduced in 2019, importers must apply for a permit to import flowers from certain countries. The conditions we place on these permits give us oversight and assurance that the biosecurity risks are being managed in these countries.

Efforts by trading partners and importers to implement the changed conditions are improving biosecurity compliance for all cut flower and foliage imports.

These improvements are a testament to the strong coordinated efforts across our department. Biosecurity is a shared responsibility and the cut flower industry is now playing a crucial role in reducing biosecurity risks before their flowers reach Australia's border

Policy and programs

Performance criterion: Policy advice is evidence-based and influential


Qualitative assessment using a case study of policy development


Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.16



Australian agricultural industries and regional communities are dealing with an ongoing trend towards more frequent and severe droughts in most parts of Australia.

The Australian Government has invested $3.9 billion, which will grow to $5 billion, in the Future Drought Fund. The fund is part of the Australian Government Drought Response, Resilience and Preparedness Plan.

In 2019–20 we developed and implemented the Future Drought Fund. This included providing support to an independent consultative committee established under the Future Drought Fund Act 2019. The committee advises the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management on a high-level framework to guide funding decisions for Future Drought Fund programs.

From October 2019 the committee held national consultation over 6 weeks, meeting farmers, industries and communities. It held 73 sessions in 23 locations across Australia and received 243 survey responses and written submissions. The committee considered its feedback before advising the minister, who signed the funding plan on 10 February 2020.

In July 2020 the minister announced the first package of 8 Future Drought Fund programs to help farmers and rural communities strengthen drought resilience and consider the incremental, transitional and transformational changes needed to build capacity to deal with drought. These programs are being funded as an initial investment in the first year, to ensure that we are getting the foundations right for the future.

As the programs are rolled out, the Regional Investment Corporation board will provide ongoing independent advice, consistent with the funding plan, to guide the minister in making funding decisions.

The consultative committee will continue to play a key role in considering the effectiveness of the first year of programs and advising on investments made in the second year and beyond. The committee will review the plan every 4 years to ensure emerging priorities are captured.

In the third year of the funding plan, the Productivity Commission will conduct an inquiry into its effectiveness.

The rollout of the Future Drought Fund marks a successful outcome for a significant piece of work by our department, and an example of good policymaking based on extensive consultation with the people and communities that will benefit.

Snapshot: Dairy Code of Conduct

The mandatory Dairy Industry Code of Conduct came into effect on 1 January 2020 following more than 12 months of extensive engagement and consultation with Australian dairy farmers, processors, industry bodies and government agencies.

The code of conduct was a key recommendation from the 2018 Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into the dairy industry. The introduction of the code is an example of our successful engagement across the industry and government to deliver a government priority, in this case working with colleagues from the Treasury and the Attorney-General's Department.

The code provides a fairer process for negotiating contractual arrangements between dairy farmers and dairy processors, and sets out the key rights and obligations of each party. These requirements have improved transparency and certainty within the industry.

Since the code came into effect, processors have for the first time publicly released their standard forms of agreement, including the minimum prices they are offering farmers for milk. This increases visibility of prices to farmers and competition among processors, ultimately leading to better options for farmers.

We have also supported Dairy Australia and Australian Dairy Farmers to deliver on government commitments that help farmers understand the changes under the code and how they can use this information in their business.

The code and these initiatives are part of how we are working to help farmers contribute to industry’s ambition of an agricultural sector worth $100 billion by 2030.

Performance criterion: Effective programs are developed and delivered to achieve policy objectives


Intended program outcomes are being achieved and the department implements improvements from lessons learned


Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.16



For more than 30 years, the Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS) has been providing free financial counselling to Australian primary producers experiencing, or at risk of, financial hardship.

In 2019 we carried out an internal review into the operation and structure of the RFCS program. The review assessed the performance of the program between 2016 and 2020. It examined the efficiency and effectiveness of funding, services and administration in meeting the program's objectives.

The review conducted targeted and public consultation with key stakeholders including:

  • RFCS providers and counsellors
  • clients
  • relevant Commonwealth, state and territory government agencies
  • peak bodies such as the National Farmers' Federation and Financial Counselling Australia.

The review panel spoke to around 150 individuals and received 34 written submissions.

The review found that stakeholders are positive about the overall contribution the RFCS makes to clients and rural communities. It made 30 recommendations to strengthen the service's role relating to regional service structure, funding arrangements, service delivery, coordination and support, and monitoring and evaluation. The recommendations focused on driving long-term behavioural change in clients.

The government has extended the current funding round by one year to 30 June 2021 to give us time to implement the recommendations as part of the next funding round. We are designing the new program to:

  • ensure all RFCS activities lead clients onto a pathway of case management to drive long‑term behavioural change
  • enable service providers to engage in more proactive work to assist with preparedness
  • provide increased funding certainty to help service providers manage demand
  • streamline reporting requirements for service providers and employ alternative methods to determine compliance and performance
  • improve training and development of counsellors
  • improve national consistency in program messaging
  • reduce the administrative burden for service providers, counsellors and government.

For more information about the review process and findings see the Rural Financial Counselling Service Program review on our website.

Trade and market access

Performance criterion: Increased access to overseas markets generates more export opportunities for Australian primary producers


The number of export markets that are gained, maintained or improved


Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.17



We play a lead role in opening, maintaining, improving and restoring access to markets for Australian agricultural, fisheries and forestry exports. We negotiate technical conditions and arrangements with trading partners and provide expert advice in negotiations to restore markets when trade is disrupted. In 2019–20 we reported 84 market access achievements.

Working through our agricultural counsellor network and with other agencies, we achieved:

  • access to 29 new markets, including access into the Republic of Korea for all variety cherries from the Australian mainland (with the exception of Western Australia) – Australia's mainland cherry exports are predominantly from New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia
  • improved access arrangements in 28 markets, including the approval of alternative fumigant options for Australian barley exported to India – this is an important step in expanding the export options for Australian malting barley growers
  • maintained access arrangements for 21 commodities, including active engagement with trading partners to maintain supply chains during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • restored market access for 6 commodities, including successfully advocating for the European Commission to reinstate Western Australia's citrus canker-free area, allowing trade to recommence.


New or improved markets show an increase in export volumes and values in trend terms


Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.17



In January 2018 we achieved improved access into Vietnam for Australian oranges, mandarins and table grapes. The export value of these 3 commodities increased in 2018–19 and is on track to continue increasing (Table 8).

Table 8 Value of citrus and table grapes exports to Vietnam, 2016–17 to 2018–19


2016–17 ($)

2017–18 ($)

2018–19 ($)

Citrus (oranges and mandarins)




Table grapes




Before 2015, Vietnam was a key market for Australian citrus and table grape exports. Australia's access was significantly reduced when Vietnam introduced a protocol system for horticulture imports, requiring market access to be renegotiated on a commodity basis.

In collaboration with industry, we prioritised restoring access for citrus and table grapes. Through extensive negotiations and engagement with our Vietnamese counterparts, we were able to regain market access in July 2015.

This access was improved in 2018 with the addition of shorter cold treatment requirements for grapes from Australia's eastern states, and the option of cold treatment for some citrus. These improvements have enabled these industries to use their preferred treatment option and have resulted in an increase in the value of citrus and table grape exports to Vietnam.

The positive trend of orange, mandarin and table grape exports is testament to effective collaboration between industry and the department, particularly our network of agricultural counsellors overseas, who are crucial in developing and sustaining relationships with our trading partners.

The improved access to Vietnam is a prominent example of our efforts to give producers and exporters expanded opportunities in overseas markets.

Research and innovation

Performance criterion: Investment in rural research and development programs demonstrates positive results


Qualitative assessment using case studies of benefits from rural research and development and innovation programs


Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.18



We deliver a range of programs that promote innovation, new technologies and new business processes to find ways of working better. These case studies report on 2 of these programs in the agricultural and biosecurity fields.

Rural Research and Development for Profit program

The Rural Research and Development for Profit program aims to realise productivity and profitability improvements for primary producers through:

  • generating knowledge, technologies, products or processes that benefit primary producers
  • strengthening pathways to extend the results of rural research and development, including understanding the barriers to adoption
  • establishing and fostering industry and research collaborations that form the basis for ongoing innovation and the growth of Australian agriculture.

The Dryland Legume Pasture Systems project, funded under round 3 of the program, is a 5-year project led by the Grains Research and Development Corporation. It aims to increase the adoption of innovative legume pastures on mixed farms in drier areas of southern and western Australia.

As part of the project, organisers are evaluating a range of novel, non-commercialised legume species and varieties that might provide farmers with more productive and persistent alternatives or complements to annual medics (temperate legumes) on fine textured soils. The project has identified several legume species that are either superior to or complement the current range of legumes used in lower rainfall regions. As a result the project is expected to make at least 4 new species or varieties of legumes available to farmers.

The project is generating information for growers on how to best manage these novel pastures to ensure more profitable and sustainable pasture and cropping production regimes. It includes grazing experiments and animal feeding trials, and bio-economic modelling to quantify the benefits in terms of whole-farm profit.

Project organisers are considering ways to overcome adoption barriers by using summer or twin sowing, header harvesting of seeds or pods and understanding hard seed breakdown patterns to benefit different farming systems. The adoption pathways are being strengthened by conducting much of the research in farmers' fields, rather than on research stations or in laboratories. Growers and farmers attending workshops and field days will see outputs under 'real life' conditions.

A mid-term review has highlighted the project's success in building cooperation and knowledge-sharing across a range of organisations and partners. The review found that:

  • participating farmers are providing valuable feedback and ensuring the research meets their needs
  • previous collaborations between organisations have been expanded
  • positive linkages are forming across a range of disciplines and organisations.

The breadth of exchange between researchers, farming system groups and farmers is enabling the project to deliver useable, innovative, robust and flexible farming system options.

Biosecurity Innovation Program

The Australian biosecurity landscape is changing quickly and growing in complexity. We are operating in a 24-hour business context, facing increasing volumes of international trade, increasingly complex global supply chains and changes in the environment, including climate change. At the same time, the spread of pests and disease around the world is increasing.

Building a smarter, stronger biosecurity system is crucial to manage these challenges. It is more important than ever that we incorporate innovative technologies and approaches into our work.

Since 2018 the $25.2 million Biosecurity Innovation Program has funded a range of projects that will enhance the capacity of the national biosecurity system. To date, the program has funded 47 projects, delivered in collaboration with the business sector, universities, and research entities.

These projects include developing a portable sensing device to enable automatic detection of brown marmorated stink bugs (BMSB) in or on cargo. BMSB is one of Australia's priority pests and a significant threat to industries and the environment. If successful, this device will provide a more efficient method for detecting this serious pest.

We are developing an app to enable biosecurity officers to capture data from passengers' passports. This will reduce manual effort and enable staff to focus on higher-value tasks.

In a world first, we are using 3D X-rays to automatically detect meat and fruit at airports and mail centres. We are building on this project to automatically detect seeds and illegal wildlife. The 3D X-ray project has been one of our most successful innovations and won the Digital and Data category at the 2020 Public Sector Innovation Awards.

In 2020–21 the program will fund further innovation projects including high throughput sequencing for plant diagnostics and drones for feral pig management.

Building a better national biosecurity system requires ongoing investment in innovation. We are excited to see the Biosecurity Innovation Program supporting the delivery of new technologies and approaches to manage biosecurity risk.

Performance criterion: The efficient collection and distribution of levies to fund rural research and development


Levy collection processes cost no more than 1.2% of levies disbursed


Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.18



In 2019–20 we disbursed $461.505 million at a cost of $4.758 million, which represents a cost of 1.01% of levies disbursed (Figure 10).

Although the monetary cost of levies collection fell in 2019–20, the relative cost increased slightly. This was because of a decrease in the amount of levies disbursed compared to 2018–19, when $529.025 million was disbursed at a cost of $4.841 million, or 0.92% of levies disbursed.

This decrease is mainly attributed to a reduction in costs associated with field record inspections, some of which were cancelled as a result of the Black Summer bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Figure 10 Levy administration revenue and costs, 2015–16 to 2019–20 A column graph showing levies disbursed, and a line showing the administration costs as a percentage of the levies disbursed. Costs were 1% in 2015-16, 0.93% in 2016-17, 0.88% in 2017-18, 0.92% in 2018-19, and 1.01% in 2019-20.
Note: The percentage is calculated by dividing the total cost-recovery charge by the total levy/charge disbursed for that financial year. It does not include Commonwealth matching payments.


Inspections of levy agent records cover at least 20% of levy revenue over a 3-year rolling average


Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.18



The agents inspected under our national compliance program collectively contributed $89.030 million, which represents 19.3% of all levies and charges collected in 2019–20. We achieved a rolling 3-year average of 26.2% coverage for levies and charges collected from 2017–18 to 2019–20 (Figure 11).

Figure 11 National compliance program levy coverage, 2015–16 to 2019–20 A column graph showing the annual levy contributions by agents and a line showing the rolling 3-year average of agents inspected under the compliance program. Agents contributed $123.7 million in 2015-16, 152.41 million in 2016-17, $161.56 million in 2017-18, $150.51 million in 2018-19 and $89.03 million in 2019-20. The rolling 3-year average was 25.2% in 2015-16, 27.3% in 2016-17, 28.5% in 2017-18, 29.5% in 2018-19, and 26.2% in 2019-20.
Note: The levy coverage for the national compliance program is made up of the annual levy contributions of agents inspected from the operational compliance program and targeted compliance assessment program.

Enterprise-wide enabling services

Performance criterion: Positive, professional and engaged workforce


The department’s employee engagement measures in the APS Employee Census are maintained or improved


Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.19


Unable to measure

Following the machinery of government changes comparison with the former Department of Agriculture's census results are of little value. The Australian Public Service Commission also delayed the 2020 APS Employee Census until October 2020. This means that data is unavailable. The census, when conducted, will provide a baseline for future analysis.

Further information about the department's human resources arrangements is provided in Our people.

Performance criterion: Safe and healthy workplaces


The notifiable workplace incident rate is maintained or reduced


Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.19



Using the final staffing headcount for the department at 30 June 2020, the notifiable workplace incident rate in 2019–20 was 1.1 per 1,000.

This incident rate information is a collective of data from our former departments. An average headcount figure has not been applied because of the effect of machinery of government changes. As a result, an absolute comparison cannot be made against annual report information published by the former Department of Agriculture or the former Department of the Environment and Energy.

The number of notifiable incidents may include incidents relating to 'workers' under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 who are not counted in the employee headcount. This could result in a higher notifiable incident rate per 1,000.

Further information about the department's work health and safety arrangements, including information on the number of notifiable incidents in the current and former departments during the year, is provided in Our people.

Performance criterion: Balanced and financially sustainable budget


The end-of-year financial position is consistent with the budget at the start of the reporting period


Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.19


Not achieved

In 2019–20 the operating loss attributable to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment's was $50.2 million. This result was within the department's approved loss.

Further information is provided in the Financial performance chapter.

Performance criterion: Information and communication technology meets business needs


The rate of high-severity ICT incidents is maintained or reduced


Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.19



Following the machinery of government changes in February 2020, we assumed responsibility for 3 ICT environments, comprising the networks of the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), the former Department of Agriculture and the former Department of the Environment and Energy (DoEE).

With a baseline measurement in place from 2018–19 for the Department of Agriculture network, we achieved an 8.2% reduction in the number of high-severity ICT incidents on this network, with 109 incidents reported in 2018–19 and 100 in 2019–20.

With no baseline comparison available for the DoEE and AAD networks, we have focused reporting on the number of high-severity incidents identified from 1 February 2020 to 30 June 2020. In this period there were 14 high-severity ICT incidents on the DoEE network and 2 on the AAD network.

Forecasting and strategic intelligence

Performance criterion: Fit-for-purpose economic and scientific modelling


Outcomes are consistent with forecasts, allowing for unforeseeable events


Department of Agriculture Corporate Plan 2019–20, p.20



ABARES publishes quarterly agricultural forecasts in the Australian crop report and Agricultural commodities. These publications cover domestic and global production, consumption, exports and prices of agricultural commodities.

Analysis conducted in 2019 of forecasts from 2000–01 to 2017–18 found that ABARES forecasts have been within 15% of actual outcomes more than 80% of the time for most major commodities, including wheat and beef. This is well within global standards for public sector agricultural forecasting agencies.

We continue to improve our modelling capacity and forecasting methods. ABARES publishes near-term scenario-based outlooks for water prices in the Murray–Darling Basin using its water markets model, as well as longer-term scenario outlooks. ABARES has also developed the farmpredict model to assess a variety of issues for broad acre farming. We are collaborating with CSIRO on improvements to the GTEM-food global model, with a focus on analysing global agricultural production and trade.

ABARES also creates and uses a variety of economic, scientific and statistical models to inform the development and implementation of our biosecurity policy and operations. The bureau has played a significant role in improvements to our plant health surveillance system. For example, ABARES modelling methods and results are being used to update the early detection surveillance of Asian gypsy moth.

Snapshot: The effects of drought and climate variability on Australian farms

In December 2019 ABARES released The effects of drought and climate variability on Australian farms. This report measured the effects of climate on farm profits from 1950 to 2019, including long-term trends towards higher average temperatures and lower average winter rainfall in south-western and south-eastern Australia.

ABARES compared the effects of climate conditions from 1950 to 1999 with more recent conditions from 2000 to 2019. The findings were calculated holding all other factors constant, including commodity prices and farm management practices.

The report finds that climate conditions since 2000 have had a negative effect on the profits of cropping and livestock farms. ABARES estimates that annual broad acre farm profits since 2000 are around 22% lower than they would have been in the years 1950 to 1999, at an average of $18,600 per farm per year, controlling for all other factors.

These effects have been most pronounced in the cropping sector, reducing average profits by 35%, or $70,900 a year for a typical cropping farm. At a national level this amounted to an average loss in production of broad acre crops of around $1.1 billion a year. Beef farms have been less affected than cropping farms overall. However, some beef farming regions such as south-western Queensland have been affected more than others.

As with previous ABARES research this study finds evidence of farmers adapting to dry conditions over time through improvements in technology and management practices. Without these adaptations, the observed shift in climate would have reduced cropping farms profits by 49% relative to pre-2000 conditions.

The report also shows that changed climate conditions since 2000 have increased risk and income volatility, particularly for cropping farms. ABARES estimates the frequency of low-profit years for cropping farms more than doubled as a result of the conditions between 2000 and 2019.