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Results from the June 2015 Scottish Agricultural Census


4. Notes

4.1 Background

This publication contains final results for the 2015 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.

Most of the data collected are required by the Statistical Office of the European Communities, specifically Council Regulation 1165/2008 which sets out requirements for provision of cattle, pig, sheep and goat statistics in both May/June and November/December. It defines the category, age or weight of livestock for which statistics are to be provided and specifies the provision of quarter-year and half-year production forecasts. There is also a separate EC Regulation covering the submission of winter crops. This information is collated by the Department for Environmental and Ruyral Affairs (Defra) for submission at member state (UK) level.

Some examples detailing how the census data are or have 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[6].

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 three 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.

The Agricultural Facts and Figures pocketbook 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 11 to 13 of our 2013/14 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 division (RESAS). Data are requested from all holdings who submitted a Single Application Form (SAF) in the previous year (regardless of their classification as a 'main' or 'minor' holding). A sample of holdings who didn't submit a SAF or who didn't return a form last year were also sent a census form.

Data for the June census is collected from three sources:

  • Land data were extracted from the Single Application Form (SAF) database for around 23,800 holdings that are claiming Single Farm Payment (SFP). Holdings that submitted a SAF in 2014 were also sent a cut-down census form (24,300 forms) to collect the additional data on livestock and labour. See section 4.7 for more details on the use of SAF data.
  • From the remaining holdings that did not complete a SAF in 2014, 7,500 (potentially including holdings that submitted a SAF for the first time in 2015) were sent a full census form covering land, livestock and labour.
  • All cattle data were collected from the Cattle Tracing Scheme administrative source. This means that we effectively have 100 per cent coverage, even for those smaller holdings that were not selected for inclusion in the census. This year this also included data on cattle breeds.

The following table gives a breakdown for forms returned for each category of holding.

  • Land-use data was received for holdings covering 90 per cent of the total agricultural area, either from returned full census forms or the SAF (shaded grey).
  • Cattle data was received for 100 per cent of holdings with cattle, from the CTS.
  • Other data was received for holdings covering 69 per cent of the total agricultural area, from returned census forms (the final column in the table).
Census type(1) Total
Number of
Area of
Area of
SAF 23,784 23,182 17,020   4,839,362 4,779,517 3,526,649
  full form   440 285   50,325 19,655
part form   22,742 16,735   4,729,192 3,506,994
Non-SAF 28,519 8,624 4,676   737,058 534,773 342,572
  full form   7,081 3,798   389,756 251,267
part form   1,543 878   145,017 91,305
Total 52,303 31,806 21,696   5,576,420 5,314,290 3,869,212

(1) "SAF" refers to holdings where land-use data is available from the Single Application Form dataset.
"Non-SAF" refers to holdings where land-use data is only available through the June Agricultural Census form (if at all).
"full form" refers to the long version of the census form covering land use, livestock (except cattle), and labour, designed for those not completing the SAF.
"part form" refers to the short version of the census form covering livestock (except cattle), and labour, designed for those known to be completing the SAF.
(2) The numbers selected are slightly lower than the total number eventually identified due to annual changes in the list of holdings.
(3) The return numbers quoted here relate to the number of survey forms received. For SAF holdings this masks the fact that we effectively receive 100 per cent response for all land items. Cattle data, from the CTS database, is also effectively 100 per cent complete. Response rates based on these figures therefore relate to other livestock and employment data.

4.5 Treatment of non-response

In Scotland the registered details of the 52,303 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 do not conduct a full census as this would place an unnecessary burden on farmers
  • for the selected holdings that are surveyed, not all farmers return data to us
  • gaps in our holding-level data set are 'maintained' by producing estimates

Estimates are produced for holdings which were (i) not surveyed and (ii) surveyed but did not provide a response, either to the whole form or to certain questions. Holdings are divided into strata (using farm type and 'economic' size) and estimates are made (using ratio estimation) for non-responders within each separate stratum. 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 stratum are applied to non-response holdings in the same stratum.

Within each stratum, land, livestock and labour values for non-response holdings are calculated by looking at those holdings that returned data in 2015 and calculating the percentage change since their previous census responses. These percentages are applyed to the non-responders' previous data for the corresponding years. That is, if a given non-responder last returned data in 2008, the percentage change for holdings returning data in both 2008 and 2015 is calculated, and this is applied to the 2008 data for the non-responder to give an estimate for 2015. Labour figures are rolled forward using the most recently returned data.

These changes in the method of imputation were introduced for the 2014 Census. More information on these changes can be found in that year's publication.[7]

Since 2014, data have been collected for beehives and blueberries. Where a census hasn't been returned in 2014 or 2015, figures for blueberries were imputed based on past responses for mixed and other fruit before relative proportions based on actual responses were used to calculate the final figures for blueberries and mixed/other fruit.

Trend information was not available for beehives however, nor for donkey which were first specifically collected in 2015. Consequently, alongside the figures for actual responses, we have provided an estimate, based on actual returns within each stratum (based on size and type), to account for non-response and for holdings which were not sampled. Similarly, figures for camelids (which were first collected in 2010) have also been provided in order to account for this temporary form or non-response.

4.6 Data quality


The content of the census and any changes to it are agreed with a range of Scottish Government divisions and, where necessary, the Scotstat network. 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 about five months after the census date. The census date was set at 1st June 2015, with returns requested by 15th June. However, forms were still being received throughout September, when the census was then closed to finalise results. Forms received after closure of the census are used for imputation of the following year's census will be incorporated into revisions published alongside the results of the June 2016 census.

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 years 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 section 4.7). Further changes to data collection in 2015 led to discontinities in grass, rough grazing, woodland, other land between 2014 and 2015 and also led to the non-availability of seasonally let land in 2015 (see section 4.7).

Use of data from the Cattle Tracing Scheme means that cattle data prior to 2006 are not directly comparable, though they have been scaled up by about three per cent where comparison is necessary.

4.7 Use of administrative data from the Single Application Form

Since 2009, data on land use has been obtained from the Single Application Form (SAF). These data were combined with land use data from all the other holdings, collected through June Census forms, to generate overall 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. In 2015 SAF data was obtained for 23,800 agricultural holdings.

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

In 2015 the definitions of temporary and permanent grass were changed on the SAF. From 2015, temporary grass relates to whether it has been reseeded in the last five years, whereas previously it related to how long it had been used for grass. The new definition only includes land that is included in a holding's crop rotation. This means changes between 2014 and 2015 in grass under 5 years old, and grass 5 years and older do not represent genuine changes in land use, but instead differences in how grass data were recorded.

In 2015 changes were made to the ways in which rough grazing, woodland, other land and seasonally let land were collected on the SAF. This affected the level of detail available in these land use categories for some holdings. This meant that for SAF holdings about 540,000 hectares of rough grazing, woodland, other land and seasonally let land-use data had to be imputed (10 per cent of the total agricultural area). This included 26,000 hectares of rough grazing (one per cent), 400,000 hectares of woodland (76 per cent) and 120,000 hectares of other land (69 per cent).

The imputation was based on the results for the holding from previous years, as well as the results from similar holdings in the current year. The increase in the amount of imputation means that the results are less precise than in 2014. However we believe the accuracy of the data is still higher than with the method used prior to the introduction of SAF data in 2009.

4.8 Collection of cattle data through the Cattle Tracing Scheme

Statistical data on cattle populations have historically been collected through the June census and December survey in Scotland. In order to reduce the burden on survey respondents, cattle data has been obtained through the Cattle Tracing System (CTS) since June 2013. CTS, an administrative data source held by the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS), records cattle movements across Great Britain and has also been used to obtain cattle figures for England and Wales since 2007.

Usable data from the CTS is only available for Scotland from 2006. For comparability, tables containing data collected via the survey methods used up until June 2012 have been included. For those years where both census and CTS data are available, CTS data have been, on average, 3.2 per cent higher than that collected through the census.

Further information relating to the collection of CTS data can be found in Annex A of the Economic Report on Scottish Agriculture 2013[8].

4.9 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 13,000 hours completing the June Census forms in 2015 at a cost of £171,000:

Number of responses (partial form) 17,613
Median time taken to respond in hours 0.5
Time taken to respond to partial form in hours 8,807
Number of responses (full form) 4,083
Median time taken to respond in hours 1
Time taken to respond to full form in hours 4,083
Total hours taken to respond to forms 12,890
Hourly rate of typical respondent* £13.23
Total cost of responding to June Census forms £170,535

* 2014 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) - Table 3.5a Median "Full Time Gross" hourly pay for males and females

4.10 Revisions

Major revisions to the results from the June Agricultural Census are published on the Scottish Government website:

4.11 Soft fruit under coverFrom 2011 the areas of strawberries and raspberries were collected seperately for fruit grown in open fields, under walk-in plastic structures, or in glasshouses. Further details on these changes are described in the 2012 June Agricultural Census.[9]

In 2015 the area of blackcurrants under walk-in plastic structures and glasshouses was specifically collected for the first time. Previously this was recorded as either blackcurrants in the open or other fruit under cover. Because of the small areas involved only the total area of blackcurrants has been published to protect the confidentiality of individual holdings.

4.11 Full tenancies and seasonal tenancies

The methodology for calculating holdings with rented land and full tenancy arrangements was refined in 2014. In order to calculate a breakdown of tenancy types, in cases of non-response, data from the most recently returned data was used. In addition, information returned in 2014 on holdings for which there was previously no tenancy type information available was applied to data for 2013. Additional information from the Crofting Commission has also been applied to data for 2013 and 2014. Estimates for remaining cases of non-response were calculated by applying proportions from actual responses to those holdings with rented land for which no tenancy type information was available. Further works was carried out in 2015 to validate data on Small Landholder Act Tenancies, which has led to a reduction in the extimated number of holdings.

Due to changes in the Single Application Form, data on seasonal tenancies were not available this year. It is hoped that we will be able to collect data in future years. Data on seasonal tenancies was previously published in 'Tenanted Agricultural Land in Scotland 2014[10] .

4.12 Farm Types

Using results from the Census, holdings are classified into farm types, which are allocated based on the main activity on the farm (as defined by the holdings Standard Output value). The farm type breakdown for 2015 uses price-derived coefficients based on a five year (2010) centred average. More information on farm types can be found in the Economic Report on Scottish Agriculture[11].

The change in values of these coefficients means that the number of holdings for each farm type is not directly comparable with 2014. The table below compares 2015 farm types with 2014 farm types calculated using the new 2010 centred coefficients, and with the 2014 farm types calculated with the previous coefficients:

Farm Type 2014 (using 2007 centred coefficients) 2014 (adjusted for 2010 centred coefficients) 2015
Cereals 2,694 2,612 2,577
General Cropping 1,064 952 896
Horticulture 617 624 621
Pigs 297 282 285
Poultry 929 873 895
Dairy 886 785 786
Sheep & Cattle (LFA) 14,327 14,531 14,546
Sheep and Cattle (non-LFA) 2,287 2,363 2,447
Mixed 5,498 5,511 5,322
Forage 22,310 22,376 22,306
Unclassified 1,368 1,368 1,622
Total 52,277 52,277 52,303

4.13 Other publications

The next large agricultural survey will be the 2015 December survey of agricultural holdings. This is a smaller exercise which surveys around 15,000 of the larger holdings, and this year will be combined with the Sheep and Goat Annual Inventory. Results will be published in Spring 2016. Results for the 2016 June census will be published in October 2016. During 2016 there will also be a European Farm Structure Survey.

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: