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 May 2020 Labour Force Survey indicate that around 131,400 people were employed in the Northern Territory.

Public administration and safety was the largest employment sector with 21,900 people, followed by health care and social assistance with 20,800 people, and education and training with 12,800 people. Other important employment sectors in the territory were retail trade; construction; and accommodation and food services. The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector employed 2,400 people, representing around 2 per cent of the territory's workforce.

Employment profile, Northern Territory, May 2020
Note: Annual average of the preceding 4 quarters.
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, cat. no. 6291.0, Labour Force, Australia 2020

Agricultural sector

Value of agricultural production

In 2018–19, the gross value of agricultural production in Northern Territory was $759 million, which was 1 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Australia ($60 billion).

The most important commodity in Northern Territory based on the gross value of agricultural production were cattle and calves ($612 million), which contributed 81 per cent of the total value of agricultural production. Other important commodities in the region were mangoes ($53 million) and hay ($21 million).

Value of agricultural production, Northern Territory, 2018–19
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 2020

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 2017–18 the gross value of Northern Territory managed fisheries production (both aquaculture and wild-catch) was $73.4 million, a decrease of 6% ($4.9 million) from 2016–17. The Northern Territory contributed 2% of the total value of Australian fisheries production in 2017–18. In value terms, the wild-catch sector accounted for 65% ($47.8 million) of the territory's total production and the aquaculture sector accounted for the remaining 35% ($25.6 million).

In 2017–18, the value of the Northern Territory's wild-catch production increased by 9% from $44 million in 2016–17 to $47.8 million. This increase was a result of an increase in production volume of Crabs, which accounted for 20.5% of the total value of wild-catch fisheries with a value of $9.8 million. Other important wild-catch fisheries products are Mackerel (13%; $6.2 million), Goldband Snapper (11%; $5.3 million), Barramundi (7.5%; $3.6 million) and Black Jewfish (6%; $2.8 million).

The value of aquaculture production in the Northern Territory decreased by 26% in 2017–18 to $25.6 million. Important production species include Barramundi and Pearl Oysters. In 2017–18 the value of aquaculture Barramundi was $22.8 million with 2,342 tonnes produced – up from 699 tonnes in 2009–10. This increase reflects the expansion of Barramundi aquaculture since the late 1990’s due to advances in technology and economies of scale. Production values of other aquaculture species and products (for example Pearls from Pearl Oyster aquaculture) generally cannot be provided because of confidentiality requirements. Pearls from Pearl Oyster aquaculture contribute significantly to the value of aquaculture production in the Northern Territory.

In 2018–19, the Northern Territory's seafood product exports were valued at around $22 million by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This amount does not include Northern Territory production that is exported from ports elsewhere in Australia. The main export products include Pearls from Oyster Pearls, corals and similar materials, fresh or chilled fish and crabs. Japan (80%), United States of America (10%) and Vietnam (5%) were the main export markets in 2018–19.

The Northern Territory has the highest residential recreational fishing participation rate in Australia at 32% (44,000 resident fishers) and the highest proportion of visiting interstate anglers (over 35,000 fishers) (Henry & Lyle 2003). In its 2015 survey, the Northern Territory Government found that most recreational fishing effort in the Greater Darwin Area is directed to the Darwin Harbour region (40%), followed by Bynoe Harbour (14%) and Shoal Bay (6%). Most (70%) fishing effort occurred in estuarine waters, with line fishing and mud crab potting being the most commonly used methods, accounting for 72% and 23% of methods used, respectively (Matthews et al 2019). The main target fish species are Barramundi, followed by Golden Snapper, small bait fish, Catfishes, Saddletail and Crimson Snapper and Mullets. Mud Crabs dominate the Crustacean catch, followed by Freshwater Prawns (Cherabin) (West et al 2012).

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 37,300 Indigenous people living in the north of Australia fished at least once during the survey year. This was equivalent to 92% of the surveyed Indigenous population in the region.

Indigenous fishers in northern Australia harvested approximately 900,000 Finfish, 1.1 million Molluscs, 660,000 Prawns and Yabbies, 180,000 Crabs and Tropical Rock Lobsters and smaller numbers of other species in 2000–01. The most prominent Finfish species groups were Mullets, Catfishes, Tropical Snapper, Breams and Barramundi. The most prominent non–Finfish species groups were Mussels, Freshwater Prawns, Mud Crabs, Prawns and Oysters.

Note: Where applicable the Australian Fish Names Standard AS SSA 5300-2019 is now used in this section. In this section standard fish names for groups of species or species families are not capitalised and employ the use of initial capital letters.

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 2020a, Labour Force, Australia, Detailed, Quarterly, May 2020, cat. no. 6291.0 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, accessed 30 June 2020.

ABS 2020b, Value of Agricultural Commodities Produced, Australia, 2018-19, cat. no. 7503.0 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, accessed 29 May 2020.

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.

Matthews, SR, Penny, SS and Steffe A 2019, A Survey of Recreational Fishing in the Greater Darwin Area 2015 (PDF 3.4 MB). Northern Territory Government, Australia. Fishery Report No 121.

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: 3 August 2020
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