About my region – Outback 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 Outback Northern Territory region and the recent financial performance of the Nort​hern Territory beef industry.

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Regional overview

The Northern Territory – Outback region covers the whole of the Northern Territory excluding the greater Darwin region. It includes the towns of Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek. The region comprises the twelve local government areas of Alice Springs, Barkly, Belyuen, Central Desert, Coomalie, East Arnhem, Katherine, MacDonnell, Roper Gulf, Tiwi Islands, Victoria—Daly and West Arnhem. The region covers a total area of around 1.3 million square kilometres or 99.7 per cent of the Northern Territory's total area and is home to approximately 98,600 people (ABS 2018).

Agricultural land in the Northern Territory – Outback region occupies 614,300 square kilometres, or 46 per cent of the region. Areas classified as conservation and natural environments (nature conservation, protected areas and minimal use) occupy 714,700 square kilometres, or 53 per cent of the region. The most common land use by area is grazing native vegetation, which occupies 611,100 square kilometres or 45 per cent of the Northern Territory – Outback region (ABARES 2016).

Broad land use in the Northern Territory – Outback region
Shows a map of broad land use in the Northern Territory - Outback region. 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

Employment

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from the May 2020 Labour Force Survey indicate that around 49,300 people were employed in the Northern Territory – Outback region. The region accounts for 37 per cent of total employment in Northern Territory and 70 per cent of all people employed in the Northern Territory agriculture, forestry and fishing sector.

Health care and social assistance was the largest employment sector with 9,300 people, followed by public administration and safety with 9,100 people, and education and training with 5,500 people. Other important employment sectors in the region were construction; retail trade; and other services. The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector employed 1,700 people, representing 3 per cent of the region's workforce.

Employment profile, Northern Territory – Outback region, 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 the Northern Territory – Outback region was $674 million, which was 89 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Northern Territory ($759 million).

The most important commodity in the region based on the gross value of agricultural production was cattle and calves ($610 million) accounting for 91 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the region. Hay ($20 million) and melons ($16 million) were the next most important commodities in the region.

Value of agricultural production, Northern Territory – Outback region, 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 223 farms in the Northern Territory – Outback region with an estimated value of agricultural operations of $40,000 or more. The region contains 72 per cent of all farm businesses in Northern Territory.

Number of farms, by industry classification, Northern Territory – Outback region, 2017–18
Industry classification Northern Territory – Outback region Northern Territory
Number of farms % of Region Number of farms Contribution of region to state total %
Beef Cattle Farming (Specialised)  148 66.6  152 97.3
Other Fruit and Tree Nut Growing  26 11.5  73 35.0
Vegetable Growing (Outdoors)  25 11.2  43 57.1
Other  24 10.7  38 62.5
Total agriculture  223 100  307 72

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
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 (148 farms) were the most common, accounting for 67 per cent of all farms in the Northern Territory – Outback region, and 97 per cent of all beef cattle 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 22 per cent of farms in the Northern Territory – Outback region had an EVAO between $50,000 and $150,000. These farms accounted for only 1 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in 2017–18. In comparison, 50 per cent of farms in the region had an EVAO of more than $1 million and accounted for an estimated 90 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in the Northern Territory – Outback region in 2017–18.

Distribution of farms by estimated value of agricultural operations, Northern Territory – Outback region, 2017–18
Shows share of farms and share of value of agricultural operations in the Northern Territory - Outback region. 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 2014–15, the most recent year for which regional data are available, the total plantation area in the Outback of the Northern Territory region was 44,200 hectares, comprising 43,000 hectares of hardwood plantations and 1,200 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 23.5 million hectares of native forests in the Outback region, comprised mainly of Eucalypt Medium Woodland (9.0 million hectares), Eucalypt Medium Open (5.6 million hectares) and Eucalypt Low Woodland (4.2 million hectares). The majority of the native forests were privately managed (13,358,600 hectares), while 9,246,400 hectares were leasehold land and 833,800 hectares were on Crown land.

Northern Territory state data

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 Northern Territory has an export woodchip port on the Tiwi islands and a number of portable sawmills in isolated regions supplying the domestic market.

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).

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.

References

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, Fisheries and Forestry, 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: 31 July 2020
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