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The agricultural census

The requirement to hold a survey of agricultural holdings is part of Chapter 12 of the acquis, which is concerned with statistics. Member States are obliged to carry out a comprehensive survey of agricultural holdings every ten years and three interim surveys each decade. The most recent comprehensive survey was in 1999/2000, with interim surveys in 2003, 2005 and 2007. Data are collected about the structure and typology of agricultural holdings. The principal information collected is shown in Box 3. Enterprises are classified according to their type of farming and economic size, with the classification of farming type being based on the relative contribution of different enterprises to the total SGM. The surveys include questions about number of hectares in the UAA that are owner-occupied, tenanted or held by sharecropping.

As was already pointed out, some countries use tools that predate CAP and EU membership to meet their legal obligations concerning the agricultural census. For example, the United Kingdom has carried out a June annual agricultural census since 1866 (MAFF, 1968). As Member States are responsible for the census, they can also use it to collect information not required by the EU. The British census, for example, also collects data about the type of tenancy.

The agricultural census makes possible comparative analyses of land tenure between different areas and over time. These can be undertaken for relatively small geographical areas. For example, Figure 3 shows the proportion of the UAA that was farmed by owners in each Member State in 2003. It shows that the proportions varied considerably between countries. Figure 4 shows the proportions of the UAA farmed by owners in 1995 and 2003 in the pre-2004 Member States.

In most countries the proportions farmed by the owners fell during this period.

The main issues to arise with the agricultural census are:

Member States are making increasing use of sampling techniques to provide information for the survey of agricultural holdings, though consent must be given by the Commission for their use. Censuses are expensive - perhaps four or five times the cost of a sample survey (Danmarks Statistik, 2003) – and add little additional data beyond what a well-structured sample survey can achieve. Sampling, though, does lead to a loss of accuracy for small area statistics (MAFF, 2000b). The sample must include all the larger commercial farms so that only the smaller units are sampled. Unfortunately, Member States use different sampling techniques. For example, the United Kingdom uses strata measured in SGMs, with samples varying from 100 percent for holdings with a SGM in excess of £240 000 down to 15 percent for holdings with a SGM of less than £9 600. The Danish survey uses strata based upon type of farming, SGMs and county, with the number of farms sampled being in proportion to the standard deviation of the SGM.

Principal data collected by the agricultural census
Geographical location of holding
Legal personality of holder
Type of tenure
Gender, age and amount of farm work done by holders
Gender, age and amount of farm work done by managers of holding
Gender, age and amount of farm work done by spouses of holders
Whether the holding is farmed organically
Crop production
Livestock production
Farm machinery and equipment
Family labour
Non-family labour

Proportion of utilized agricultural area farmed by owners, 2003
Source: Eurostat.

Proportions of the utilized agricultural area farmed by owners in 1995 and 2003
Source: Eurostat.

Should the survey continue to be based upon holdings, or would it be more appropriate for it to be business-based? There is a growing trend for agricultural businesses to comprise more than one holding. A recent British study of the changing structure of agricultural businesses has argued that the growth of varied tenure arrangements and whole-farm contracting “means that the holdings-based data have less and less relevance to monitoring the extent of farm business change” (Lobley et al., 2002). A holding-based survey can give the impression that the larger businesses are smaller than they really are.

The measurement of the UAA under tenant farming in the census overlooks the variety of tenancy conditions under which tenant farmers operate. For example, Figure 5 shows the trends in different types of tenancy agreement in England since 2000. Between 1923 and 1995, agricultural tenancies were regulated by statute law (Burn, 2000), resulting in rents being set below market levels and restrictions on landlords being able to recover their land. During this period, owner occupation increased from 11 percent of the land in England and Wales in 1913 to 68 percent in 2000. The Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995 created a new form of tenancy, the farm business tenancy, which will gradually replace full agricultural tenancies. Under this new tenancy there is no security of tenure beyond the stated term, but compensation is payable for tenant improvements and more flexible terms are possible. The policy was intended to promote diversification and the creation of more viable units by encouraging land owners to rent land to others rather than farming it themselves, and it seems to be achieving many of the objectives set (Whitehead et al., 2002). Figure 4 shows that while the quantity of land rented for more than 365 days changed little between 2000 and 2003 (up from 3.42 to 3.49 million hectares), land under agricultural tenancies declined and that rented under farm business and other forms of tenancy increased. Understanding the factors behind tenure trends requires more detail on tenure conditions than is provided by the agricultural census.

The issues that have arisen with the introduction of the agricultural census in Central and Eastern Europe include:

Proportion of land rented in England for more than 365 days by type of tenancy, 2000–03
Source: Defra, 2005.

There has been considerable cooperation between EU bodies such as Eurostat and existing Member States and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe as part of the preparations for membership. Support has also been given by international bodies such as FAO.

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