About my region – Northern Territory

About my region is a series of individual profiles of the agricultural, forestry and fisheries industries in your region. This regional profile presents an overview of the agriculture, fisheries, and forestry sectors in the Northern Territory and the recent financial performance of the Northern Territory beef industry.

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Regional overview

The Northern Territory covers a total area of around 1.3 million square kilometres and is home to approximately 247,500 people (ABS 2018). Agricultural land in the Northern Territory occupies 615,000 square kilometres, or around 46 per cent of the state. Areas classified as conservation and natural environments (nature conservation, protected areas and minimal use) occupy 716,600 square kilometres, or 53 per cent of the state. The most common land use by area is grazing native vegetation, which occupies 611,600 square kilometres or 45 per cent of the state (ABARES 2016).

Broad land use in the Northern Territory
Shows a map of broad land use in the Northern Territory. It includes a legend which shows the broad land use categories— nature conservation, protected areas and minimal use; grazing native vegetation; production forestry; grazing modified pastures; plantation forestry; cropping; horticulture; intensive uses and water. This map is discussed in the above paragraph.
Source: Catchment scale land use of Australia - Update December 2018


Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from the November 2019 Labour Force Survey indicate that around 130,400 people were employed in the Northern Territory.

Public administration and safety was the largest employment sector with 20,400 people, followed by health care and social assistance with 19,600 people, and education and training with 11,800 people. Other important employment sectors in the territory were retail trade; construction; and accommodation and food services. The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector employed 2,200 people, representing around 2 per cent of the territory's workforce.

Employment profile, Northern Territory, November 2019
Note: Annual average of the preceding 4 quarters.
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, cat. no. 6291.0, Labour Force, Australia 2019

Agricultural sector

Value of agricultural production

In 2017–18, the gross value of agricultural production in Northern Territory was $651 million, which was 1 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Australia ($59 billion).

The most important commodities in Northern Territory based on the gross value of agricultural production were cattle and calves ($492 million), followed by mangoes ($70 million) and melons ($25 million). These commodities together contributed 90 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the jurisdiction.

Value of agricultural production, Northern Territory, 2017–18
Shows the gross value of agricultural production in the region in millions of dollars. The figure is discussed in the previous two paragraphs.
Note: The graph shows only data published by the ABS. Some values were not published by the ABS to ensure confidentiality. The "Other commodities" category includes the total value of commodities not published as well as those with small values.
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, cat. no. 7503.0, Value of agricultural commodities produced, Australia 2019

Number and type of farms

ABS data indicate that in 2017–18 there were 307 farms in Northern Territory with an estimated value of agricultural operations of $40,000 or more. The territory contains less than 1 per cent of all farm businesses in Australia.

Number of farms, by industry classification, Northern Territory region, 2017–18
Industry classification Northern Territory Australia
Number of farms % of Region Number of farms Contribution of NT to Australian total %
Beef Cattle Farming (Specialised)  152 50  21,919 1
Other Fruit and Tree Nut Growing  73 24  1,601 5
Vegetable Growing (Outdoors)  43 14  2,545 2
Other Crop Growing nec  6 2  563 1
Sheep Farming (Specialised)  5 1.5  8,443 0
Other              28 9.0        43,950 0.1
Total agriculture           307 100        79,021 0.4

Note: Estimated value of agricultural operations $40,000 or more. Industries that constitute less than 1 per cent of the region's industry are not shown. nec Not elsewhere classified.
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2019

Farms in the table above are classified according to the activities that generate most of their value of production. Beef cattle farms (152 farms) were the most common, accounting for 50 per cent of all farms in the Northern Territory.

Estimated value of agricultural operations (EVAO) is a measure of the value of production from farms and a measure of their business size. Around 26 per cent of farms in the Northern Territory had an EVAO between $50,000 and $150,000. These farms accounted for only 2 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in 2017–18. In comparison, 41 per cent of farms in the territory had an EVAO of more than $1 million and accounted for an estimated 87 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in the Northern Territory in 2017–18.

Distribution of farms by estimated value of agricultural operations, Northern Territory, 2017–18
Shows share of farms and share of value of agricultural operations in the Northern Territory. The figure is discussed in the previous paragraph.
Note: Only farms with an EVAO of $50,000 or more in 2017–18 are included in these data. The scope of ABS Rural Environment and Agricultural Collections changed in 2015–16 to include only agricultural businesses with an EVAO of $40,000 or greater.
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2019

Farm financial performance

Estimates of financial performance are available for beef farms in the Northern Territory.

Fisheries sector

In 2015–16 the gross value of Northern Territory managed fisheries production (both aquaculture and wild-catch) was $59.4 million, an increase of 8 per cent ($4.2 million) from 2014–15. The Northern Territory contributed 2 per cent of the total value of Australian fisheries production in 2015–16. In value terms, the wild-catch sector accounted for 59 per cent ($35 million) of the territory's total production and the aquaculture sector accounted for the remaining 41 per cent ($24.5 million).

The Northern Territory's wild-catch fisheries sector provides a range of fisheries products. The highest contribution is from mackerel which account for 15 per cent of the total value of wild-catch fisheries with a value of $5.3 million. Other important wild-catch fisheries products are crabs (primarily mud crabs), which account for 9 per cent of the total value of wild-catch fisheries with a value of $3 million, gold band snapper (9 per cent; $3.2 million) and barramundi (7 per cent; $2.6 million). In 2015–16 the value of the Northern Territory's aquaculture production increased by 12 per cent from $31 million in 2014–15 to $35 million in 2015–16.

The Commonwealth managed Northern Prawn Fishery was the most valuable fishery in the Northern Territory, with a gross value of production in 2015–16 of $124 million, across the entire fishery (some of which is landed in Queensland). In 2015–16, the gross value of production for the Commonwealth Northern Prawn Fishery increased by 16 per cent because of a 17 per cent increase in price. Darwin is a major landing site for this fishery.

In 2015–16, the Northern Territory's seafood product exports were valued at around $0.16 million by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This amount will not include Northern Territory production that is exported from ports elsewhere in Australia. The main export products include live and fresh, chilled or frozen fish, and crabs, with Japan and China being the main export markets. The main non-edible fisheries product produced for the export market in the Northern Territory was pearls.

Recreational fishing is popular in the Northern Territory with an estimated 31,790 non-indigenous Northern Territory residents (5 years and over) participating in the activity in the 12 months prior to April 2009 (Henry, GW & Lyle JM 2003). In its survey of recreational fishers in Northern Territory found that most fishing effort is directed to Darwin Harbour (27 per cent), Darwin Surrounds and Bynoe/Finniss Area (28 per cent) and the Mary/Alligator Rivers (17 per cent). Most (80 per cent) fishing effort occurred in marine waters, including estuaries, and inshore and offshore waters.

It is estimated that Northern Territory residents and visitors spend nearly $51 million annually on recreational fishing, with the purchase of vessels and vehicles and their associated running costs making up the bulk of the expenditure (West et al 2012). According to the most recent survey of recreational fishing activity in the Northern Territory (West et al 2012), the main target fish species are barramundi, followed by golden snapper, small bait fish, catfish, saddletail and crimson snapper, and mullet. Mud crabs dominate the crustacean catch, followed by cherabin, the giant freshwater prawn.

The Northern Territory also has a significant indigenous customary fish sector. The 2000–01 National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey (NRIFS) aimed to better understand the level of fishing undertaken by the Indigenous fishing sector (Henry & Lyle 2003). The survey collected fisheries catch statistics from Indigenous people aged five years and older, living in coastal communities across the north of Australia, from Broome in Western Australia to Cairns in Queensland (excluding those living in the Torres Strait). The survey showed that an estimated 37,000 Indigenous people living in the north of Australia fished at least once during the survey year. This was equivalent to 92 per cent of the Indigenous population in the region.

The survey indicated that Indigenous fishers in northern Australia harvested approximately 900,000 finfish, 1 million molluscs, 660,000 prawns and yabbies, 180,000 crabs and rock lobsters and smaller numbers of other species during 2000–01. The most prominent finfish species groups were mullet, catfish, tropical snapper, bream and barramundi. The most prominent non–finfish species groups were mussels, freshwater prawn, mud crabs, prawns and oysters.

Forestry sector

In 2017–18, the total plantation area in the Northern Territory was 47,400 hectares, comprised of 45,500 hectares of hardwood plantations and 1,900 hectares of softwood plantations. The main hardwood plantation species in Northern Territory are Mangium (Acacia mangium) and Rainbow Gum (Eucalyptus deglupta). The main softwood plantation species in Northern Territory is Caribbean Pine (Pinus caribaea).

In 2016, there were 23.7 million hectares of native forests in the Northern Territory, comprised mainly of Eucalypt Medium Woodland (9.1 million hectares), Eucalypt Medium Open (5.7 million hectares) and Eucalypt Low Woodland (4.2 million hectares). The majority of the native forests were privately managed (13,430,700 hectares), while 9,317,200 hectares were on leasehold land and 879,600 hectares were in crown land. The Northern Territory has an export woodchip port on the Tiwi islands and a number of portable sawmills in isolated regions supplying the domestic market.

There is no forest production data available for the Northern Territory.

In 2017–18, the estimated sales and service income generated from the sale of wood products in the Northern Territory was $22 million. Sales and service income for paper and paper products is not available for 2017–18.

In 2016 the Northern Territory forestry sector employed 280 workers (0.27 per cent) of the total employed workforce in Northern Territory compared with 240 (0.25 per cent) in 2011. The number of people employed includes the following categories: forestry and logging, forestry support services, wood product manufacturing and pulp, paper and converted paper product manufacturing.


ABARES 2016, Land Use of Australia 2010–11, ABARES, Canberra, May.

ABARES 2018, Catchment scale land use of Australia – December 2018, Canberra, December.

ABS 2018, Population by Age and Sex, Regions of Australia, 2017, cat. no. 3235.0 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, accessed 10 January 2019.

ABS 2019a Labour Force, Australia, Detailed, Quarterly, November 2019, cat. no. 6291.0 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, accessed 15 January 2020.

ABS 2019b Value of Agricultural Commodities Produced, Australia, 2017-18, cat. no. 7503.0 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, accessed 15 May 2019.

Henry, GW & Lyle JM (eds) 2003, The National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey. Final report to the Fisheries Research & Development Corporation, NSW Fisheries final report series, no. 48, FRDC project no. 99/158, Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Canberra.

West, LD, Lyle, JM, Matthews, SR, Stark, KE & Steffe, AS 2012, Survey of Recreational Fishing in the Northern Territory, 2009–10, Fishery report no. 109, Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries, December, Darwin.

Last reviewed: 4 February 2020
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