Results from the June 2012 Scottish Agricultural Census

Final results from the annual agricultural census. Land, livestock and labour items.

This document is part of a collection

4. Notes

4.1. Background

This publication contains final results for the 2012 June Agricultural census and trends over the last ten years.

4.2. Uses of the information

The census is conducted for a wide range of purposes. The statistics help the government to form, monitor and evaluate policy, and to assess the economic well-being of the different agricultural sectors. Most of the data collected is required by the Statistical Office of the European Communities. Equally important is the regular contact with farmers, which enables the department's register to be kept up to date. This means, for example, that information on new animal health requirements, or new subsidy schemes can be quickly directed to relevant farmers.

Some examples detailing how the census data is or has been used:

  • to estimate the total income from farming, as part of the Scottish GDP figures and to compile the National Accounts for the UK.
  • to model various scenarios/options and analyse outcomes/impacts on Scottish agriculture in relation to a range of options on the future of support for Scottish Agriculture.
  • to provide disease and epidemiology modellers with a snap-shot of livestock numbers and locations (at 1st June) to assist with real-time and emergency planning procedures for animal disease outbreaks.
  • UK ammonia and greenhouse gas inventories - the census provides Scottish agricultural land and livestock data.
  • to support work on various research packages such as assessing the potential impact of CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) reform on payments to farmers; early environment effects on animal health and welfare; assessing the effectiveness of measures to manage water quality and control diffuse water pollution.

The census is also used by the main research providers working for the Scottish Government on numerous projects and underpins the majority of the analysis and research that is carried out, and to provide sampling frames for this research. In some cases it is also used to identify holdings for receipt of important and relevant information by mail, subject to the terms of Section 80 of the Agriculture Act 1947[4].

4.3. June Census outputs

Results from the June census are available to the public as follows:

The Annual Abstract of Statistics presents a time series from 1982 onwards which also contains some additional detail on selected items (common grazing, land tenure etc). It is available to download as a spreadsheet along with this publication and can be accessed here:

Previous editions of the Abstract can be accessed here:

The outputs from the census on livestock and crops are also used as key inputs to the Total Income from Farming (TIFF) model, which is used to estimate the value of agricultural productivity in Scotland. Headline results are published each January with more detailed analysis presented in the Economic Report on Scottish Agriculture (ERSA), which is published in May or June of each year. Results for TIFF can be accessed as follows:

The Economic Report on Scottish Agriculture (ERSA) is a compendium publication which contains detailed statistics on Scottish agriculture. It contains 3 sections covering, (i) Total Income From Farming (TIFF - see above for more details), (ii) Farm Accounts analysis (income and expenditure statistics by different farm types) and (iii) additional statistics/analysis from the June census e.g. more detail is provided on the structure and composition of Scottish agriculture in terms of the types of activity on holdings, additional geographic analysis is provided along with some UK comparisons.

Geographical results for the June census in years prior to 2010 are available in the Geographical Summary Sheets which provides analysis by the 14 agricultural geographic areas within Scotland. Results for the June census from 2010 onwards have been incorporated into ERSA.

Agricultural Facts and Figures pocketbook. This provides a useful summary of the key statistics in the Scottish agriculture and food sector in a convenient pocketbook format.

EC regulations

The EC demands that each member state collect agricultural statistics every year, enforced through a number of EC regulations relating primarily to crops and livestock. Specific regulations are listed on pages 3 to 5 of our 2009/10 annual statistics plan; a link is provided here:

These regulations are legally enforceable by the EC meaning that member states must comply with the data collection requirements in order to avoid financial penalties. In Scotland, the June census is the main survey that is used to meet these requirements as part of providing a response to the EC at a UK level.

We also use the June census to contribute to the formulation and publication of UK statistics on agriculture. These publications are co-ordinated by DEFRA and more details are available here.

4.4. Data collection

The June Agricultural Census is conducted annually by the Scottish Government's Rural and Environmental Science Analytical Services (RESAS).

Data for the June census is collected from two sources:

  • Land data extracted from the Single Application Form (SAF) database for around 25,500 holdings that are claiming Single Farm Payment (SFP). This data is accurate as farmers can face penalties for supplying incorrect data. Around 18,500 of these holdings were surveyed in 2012 with a cut-down census form sent to them to collect additional data on livestock and labour. See section 4 for more details on SAF data.
  • The remaining 10,600 holdings that needed to be surveyed in 2012 were sent a full census form covering land, livestock and labour.

There are around 52,600 agricultural holdings in Scotland. In 2012 a total of 29,100 holdings were surveyed (with either a full or cut-down form). Results in this bulletin are based on the 20,100 census forms that were returned and the information collated via the SAF database.

In 2012 the overall response rate was 69%. This breaks down:

  • For holdings that received a full census form (i.e., those holdings where we collected full data through the June census) the response rate was 60%.
  • By contrast, the response rate for holdings that received a reduced census form (those holdings where data was through the SAF database) was 74%. These are the holdings that generally cover a larger proportion of overall agricultural activity.

Please note that the rates quoted here relate to the number of survey forms received, as a proportion of total forms issued. This masks the fact that we effectively receive 100% response for land items that are extracted from the SAF database as detailed above. Therefore, although the crude response rate of 69% may seem low, we can in fact be very confident about the accuracy of the majority of the land data that is supplied to us which also covers the bulk of the larger (by activity) agricultural holdings in Scotland.

4.5. Non-response

In Scotland the register details of the 52,600 agricultural holdings are used to maintain a holding-level dataset of agriculture for statistical purposes. This provides a virtually complete coverage of agricultural activity in Scotland. However, please note that:

  • we very rarely conduct a full census of holdings as this would place an unnecessary burden on farmers
  • for the selected holdings that are surveyed, not all farmers return data to us
  • where we have gaps in our holding-level data set, we 'maintain' records by producing estimates

Estimates are produced for holdings which were (i) not surveyed and (ii) surveyed but did not provide a response. The population of holdings (around 52,600) is divided into 'main' and 'minor' holdings ('main' holdings are generally those holdings which are over one hectare in size). The 'main' holdings are then divided into strata (using farm type and 'economic' size) and estimates are made (using ratio estimation) for non-response within each separate strata. Any estimates are restricted to a maximum of +/- 2.5% change on the previous year for each holding in order to avoid artificial distortion in the overall statistics (artificial distortion can occur when large actual changes in a small number of holdings within a strata are applied to non-response holdings in the same strata).

For main holdings, within each strata, land, livestock and labour values for non-response holdings are calculated by looking at real changes in land, livestock and labour items on holdings that returned data in the current year. These reported rates of change are then applied to the land, livestock and labour categories for non-response holdings (but only where a non-response holding has provided some data for an item in the past).

For minor holdings a different approach is used. Any holdings designated as 'minor' (and identified as still active), who did not submit a survey return in the current year, have their data from the previous year rolled forward into the current year. The primary reason for taking this approach is that, although numerous, minor holdings do not contribute a significant amount towards agricultural activity and (generally) the data associated with land, livestock and labour does not radically change from year to year. More information on minor holdings (and a pending review of the minor survey) can be found here:

4.6. Data Quality


The content of the census and any changes to it are agreed with a range of Scottish Government division and where necessary the Scotstat Group. The survey provides data used by both the Scottish Government and the EU to assess agricultural activity, in the monitoring and development of policy (see section 4.2 above).


Data undergo several validation processes as follows; (i) checking for any obvious errors on the paper census forms upon receipt, (ii) auto-checking and identifying any internal inconsistencies once loaded onto the initial database, (iii) auto-checking for any sudden changes in comparison with previous annual returns and other holdings (iv) assessing any trends or switches in item areas or quantities that look unreasonable.

If necessary farmers are contacted to ensure data are correct. Additional quality assurance is provided at the later stages by utilising expert knowledge within the Scottish Government and the agriculture industry.

See sections 4.4 and 4.5 for further information on survey methodology.

Timeliness and Punctuality

Results have been published within three months from the census date. The census date was set at 1st June 2012, with returns requested by 15th June. However forms were still being received in early September, when the census was then closed to finalise results.

Accessibility and Clarity

These statistics are made available online at the Scottish Government's statistics website in accessible formats (html and pdf versions are available). All data tables are made available in excel format to allow users to carry out further analysis. We encourage feedback on the content and format of our publications.


The publication includes comparable data from the previous ten years' censuses, with data from year prior to that published in the accompanying documentation. The change to collecting some administrative data via the Single Application Form led to some apparent discontinuities in the data between 2008 and 2009. Likewise a change in the collection of data on strawberries and raspberries has led to some discontinuities between 2010 and 2011 and between 2011 and 2012 (see separate note below).

4.7. Use of administrative data from the Single Application Form

In 2009, for the first time, data on land use was obtained from the Single Application Form (SAF) for 24,700 holdings claiming Single Farm Payments. This data was combined with land use data from all the other holdings, collected through June Census forms, to generate overall 2009 June Census results. This development led to a substantial reduction in statistical data collection and an overall improvement in the quality of land use statistics.

While the new method of incorporating SAF data is believed to be more accurate than the previous method it has resulted in a step change in some of the land use results for 2009, especially for rough grazing and grass. This means that trends between 2008 and 2009 for these land use categories do not represent genuine changes in land use, but do represent differences in the way this data has been reported between the 2008 June Census and 2009 SAF. These trends should be treated with caution.

4.8. Respondent Burden

One of the recommendations resulting from the UKSA assessment of Scottish Government agricultural statistics was to report annually on the estimated costs of farmers responding to the agricultural surveys.

To determine how long it took farmers to complete the December survey, around 110 farmers were asked over the telephone for an estimate of the total time it took them to fill in the form itself as well as the time taken to read guidance notes, count livestock or consult business records containing information required to fill in the form etc. More information on how this exercise was conducted can be found in the results from the 2011 December Survey of Main Holdings:

A median time of 30 minutes was derived from this survey of farmers in December and is the figure used as the baseline for calculating respondent burden for the June Census. Calculations for estimating respondent burden for the June Census are based on the assumption that the partial form completed by those also submitting a Single Application Form (SAF) takes around the same time to complete as the December Survey form, while the full June Census form takes twice as long.

The table below employs formulae based on guidance given by the Scottish Government Statistics group. It is estimated that farmers spent 13,200 hours completing the June Census forms in 2012 at a cost of £164,300:

Number of responses (partial form) 13,665
Median time taken to respond in hours 0.5
Time taken to respond to partial form in hours 6,832.5
Number of responses (partial form) 6397
Median time taken to respond in hours 1
Time taken to respond to full form in hours 6397
Total hours taken to respond to forms 13,229.5
Hourly rate of typical respondent* £12.42
Total cost of responding to June Census forms £164,310

* 2011 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) - Table 3.5a Median "Full Time Gross" hourly pay for Scotland males and females

4.9. Revisions

This year's publication includes revisions made to the number of camelids for 2010 and 2011. Major revisions to the results from the June Agricultural Census are published on the Scottish Government website:

4.10. Soft fruit under cover

In 2012 additional codes were added to the Single Application Form (SAF) which now allow farmers to record on their SAF whether their area of strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants were grown in open fields or under walk-in plastic structures. Furthermore, areas of strawberries and raspberries grown under glass could also be recorded separately in the SAF.

This follows on from an amendment of the Census form in 2011 which allowed areas of strawberries and raspberries grown under glass to be recorded.

This further amendment allows us to collect more detailed information for these fruits as, previously, we were not able to disaggregate these fruits on the basis of those only submitting a SAF. While this amendment improves the level of detail of soft fruit grown in Scotland, changes between 2010 and 2012 (owing to both the changes to the SAF in 2012 and the Census form in 2011) should be treated with caution.

Adjustments have been made to the areas of strawberries and raspberries for holdings submitting the Single Application Form (SAF) as it is possible for these holdings to record their area of strawberries and raspberries twice (once through reporting land items on the SAF and once through reporting their areas under glass or open field on the census form). Where this was the case, we have deducted the double counting from the area of strawberries and raspberries reported on the Census form.

4.11. Occupiers and Spouses doing farm work

There was erroneously no category provided on the form to allow instances of occupiers and spouses not working on the holding to be recorded. Numbers for these instances was calculated using imputation based on returns from the previous year.

4.12. Other publications

The next large agricultural survey will be the 2012 December survey of agricultural main holdings. This is a smaller exercise which surveys around 11,000 holdings. Results will be published in Spring 2012. Results for the 2013 June census will be published in September 2013.

Statistics on the production of meat, milk, eggs and other livestock products are published in the Economic Report on Scottish Agriculture (ERSA). These can show different trends in livestock numbers to those shown above, as they are also dependent on factors such as production yields and international trade in livestock for finishing and slaughter. ERSA also provides statistics on the price and value of livestock and other agricultural outputs. These data can be accessed here:

Results from all Scottish Government agricultural surveys can be accessed here:

Results from previous June censuses can be accessed here:

Publications relating to cereal and oilseed rape production can be accessed here:


Email: Graeme Kerr

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