About my region – Cairns Queensland

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, sheep and beef sectors in the Cairns region and the recent Queensland financial performance of the broadacre, dairy and vegetable industries.

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​​​Regional overview

The Cairns region is located in the north of Queensland and comprises the three local government areas of Cairns, Cassowary Coast and Yarrabah, part of the Tablelands local government area, and the regional centres of Cairns and Port Douglas. The region covers a total area of around 21,300 square kilometres or 1 per cent of Queensland's total area and is home to approximately 249,700 people (ABS 2018).

Agricultural land in the Cairns region occupies 10,000 square kilometres, or 47 per cent of the region. Areas classified as conservation and natural environments (nature conservation, protected areas and minimal use) occupy 10,100 square kilometres, or 47 per cent of the region. The most common land use by area is nature conservation, which occupies 8,800 square kilometres or 41 per cent of the Cairns region (ABARES 2016).

Broad land use in the Cairns region
Shows a map of broad land use in the Cairns 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


Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from the May 2020 Labour Force Survey indicate that around 133,000 people were employed in the Cairns region. The region accounts for 5 per cent of total employment in Queensland and 5 per cent of all people employed in the Queensland agriculture, forestry and fishing sector.

Health care and social assistance was the largest employment sector with 21,000 people, followed by retail trade with 15,100 people, and construction with 13,900 people. Other important employment sectors in the region were education and training; accommodation and food services; and public administration and safety. The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector employed 4,100 people, representing 3 per cent of the region's workforce.

Employment profile, Cairns region, May 2020
Shows the number of people employed in the Cairns region by industry in thousands. The figure is discussed in the previous two paragraphs.
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 Cairns region was $925 million, which was 7 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Queensland ($12.9 billion).

The Cairns region has a diverse agricultural sector. The most important commodities in the region based on the gross value of agricultural production were bananas ($437 million), followed by sugarcane ($204 million) and avocados ($63 million). These commodities together contributed 76 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the region. In 2018–19 the Cairns region accounted for 93 per cent of the total value of Queensland's bananas production.

Value of agricultural production, Cairns region, 2018–19
Shows the gross value of agricultural production in the region in millions of dollars. The figure is discussed in the previous three 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 1,339 farms in the Cairns region with an estimated value of agricultural operations of $40,000 or more. The region contains 8 per cent of all farm businesses in Queensland.

Number of farms, by industry classification, Cairns region, 2017–18
Industry classification Cairns region ​Queensland
Number of farms % of Region Number of farms Contribution of region to state total %
Sugar Cane Growing        646 48.2      2,939 22.0
Other Fruit and Tree Nut Growing        278 20.8          761 36.5
Beef Cattle Farming (Specialised)        228 17.0      8,288 2.7
Dairy Cattle Farming           53 4.0          423 12.6
Vegetable Growing (Outdoors)           37 2.7          639 5.7
Citrus Fruit Growing           19 1.4          201 9.4
Other           79 5.9      4,097 1.9
Total agriculture     1,339 100    17,348 7.7

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. Sugar cane farms (646 farms) were the most common, accounting for 48 per cent of all farms in the Cairns region, and 22 per cent of all sugar cane farms in Queensland.

Estimated value of agricultural operations (EVAO) is a measure of the value of production from farms and a measure of their business size. Around 30 per cent of farms in the Cairns region had an EVAO between $50,000 and $150,000. These farms accounted for only 5 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in 2017–18. In comparison, 14 per cent of farms in the region had an EVAO of more than $1 million and accounted for an estimated 56 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in the Cairns region in 2017–18.

Distribution of farms by estimated value of agricultural operations, Cairns region, 2017–18
Shows share of farms and share of value of agricultural operations in the Cairns 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 all broadacre, diary and vegetable farms in Queensland.

Fisheries sector

Cairns is a key commercial fishing and aquaculture area in Queensland. In 2018–19, the region landed 961 tonnes of commercial catch including 223 tonnes of Tiger Prawns, 124 tonnes of Coral Trouts, 88 tonnes of Endeavour Prawns, 86 tonnes of Mud Crabs and 85 tonnes of Spanish Mackerel (QDAF 2020a). A range of other wild-caught species are also landed in the region including: Barramundi, Tunas and Tropical Rock Lobsters. The East Coast Trawl Fishery is the largest of Queensland's commercial fisheries operating in the region targeting mostly Prawns, but also Bugs, Squids and other species. The Marine Aquarium Fishery, which collects aquarium fish and invertebrates such as Damselfish, Butterflyfishes, Angelfishes, Wrasses and Gobies, is also active in the area. In 2017, the Cairns region harvested 32,000 aquarium fish for domestic and international markets, accounting for 29% of the total production from the fishery (Heaven 2018).

Aquaculture is also important in the region, accounting for 43% ($51.5 million; 3,691 tonnes) of Queensland’s total aquaculture production value and employing 227 people in 2018–19 (Schofield 2020). Aquaculture species produced in the area include Barramundi, Jade Perch, Prawns and Oyster Pearls.

Recreational fishing is a popular activity in the region, with 29.9% (49,200 people) of Cairns residents engaging in recreational fishing activities at least once in 2019, a proportion much higher than the state average of 18.7% (QDAF 2020b). Cairns residents fish mostly in the local coastal waters and the central coast catchment, preferring estuarine and enclosed coastal areas. Fishing from the shore was more popular than from a boat. Targeted species include Mud Crabs, Barramundi, Blue Threadfin, Mangrove Jack and Queenfishes. Redclaw was the most commonly harvested species, alongside Blue Threadfin and Coral Trouts (Webley et al 2015). This region is a popular destination for fishers travelling from other regions of Queensland, elsewhere in Australia and overseas.

Queensland state data

In 2017–18 the total gross value product (GVP) of Queensland's fisheries production was $294.4 million, a decrease of 5% ($14.9 million) from 2016–17. Queensland contributed 9% of the total value of Australian fisheries production in 2017–18. In value terms, the wild-catch sector accounted for 61% ($180.2 million) of the state's total production and the aquaculture sector accounted for the remaining 39% ($114.2 million).

Queensland's wild-catch fisheries sector provides a range of fisheries products. The highest contribution being from Prawns and Coral Trouts. The GVP of wild-catch fisheries in Queensland decreased by 7% in 2017–18 to $180.2 million. Contributing to this decline was a decrease in the landed volume of Prawns (39% of total value of wild-catch; $70.1 million) and Coral Trouts (15% of total value of wild-catch; $27.1 million). The aggregate wild-caught GVP of Prawns, comprising mainly King Prawns, Tiger Prawns, Banana Prawns and Endeavour Prawns, decreased by 12% in 2017–18. The value of Coral Trouts decreased by 2% as a result of decreased catch.

The value of Queensland's aquaculture production decreased by 2% in 2017–18 to $114.2 million. This was largely due to a 4% decline in the GVP of Prawns to $74.7 million — down from $77.8 million in 2016–17; and lower production value of Barramundi, which declined by $1.5 million to $26.9 million. Prawns are Queensland’s biggest contributor to the aquaculture sector. The volume of aquaculture Prawns harvested for commercial purposes declined by 8% from 4,264 tonnes in 2016–17 to 3,921 tonnes in 2017–18. In 2016–17 prawn farms in the Logan River region of southern Queensland were destocked following an outbreak of White Spot Disease (McCarthy 2016; Mobsby & Curtotti 2019), with industry still rebuilding in 2017–18. In 2017–18 Queensland aquaculture production was dominated by Prawns and Barramundi, which together comprised 89% of GVP.

Commonwealth fisheries active in the waters off the east coast of Queensland include the Commonwealth Eastern Tuna and Billfish fishery (mainly supplying export markets with Tunas) and the Coral Sea Fishery.

In 2018–19, Queensland's fisheries product exports were valued at $185.8 million. Hong Kong and the China are the major destinations for Queensland fisheries exports, accounting for 29% and 21% of the total value of exports in 2018–19, respectively. Other major export destinations include Japan (15%) and United States of America (12%).

Recreational fishing is popular in Queensland. The results of the 2019–20 state wide and regional recreational fishing survey stated that 18.7% of Queensland’s population participated in recreational fishing in 2019 (approximately 943,000 people) (QDAF 2020). Total expenditure in the sector was estimated to be between $350 million and $420 million in 2008–09 (DEEDI 2009). The tropical waters of Queensland are also a key area for tourism, attracting anglers from around the world. Popular target species include Crabs, Prawns and a range of Finfish species including Cods and Groupers, Coral Trouts, Redthroat Emperor and Mackerels. For freshwater activity some key species caught include Barramundi, Eels, Silver Perch and Yabbies.

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 Cairns region was 10,000 hectares, comprised of 1,300 hectares of hardwood plantations and 8,700 hectares of softwood plantations. The main hardwood plantation species in Queensland is Dunns white gum (Eucalyptus dunnii). The main softwood plantation species in Queensland are Slash Pine hybrid (Pinus elliottii hybrid), Southern Pine hybrid (Pinus caribaea hybrid) and Hoop pines (Araucaria cunninghamii).

In 2016 there were 1.7 million hectares of native forests in the Cairns region, comprised mainly of Rainforest (597,700 hectares), Eucalypt Medium Woodland (457,500 hectares) and Eucalypt Medium Open (367,600 hectares). The majority of the native forests were in conservation reserves (797,600 hectares), while 465,400 hectares were leasehold land and 308,200 hectares were on privately managed.

Queensland state data

In 2017–18, the total plantation area in Queensland was 230,500 hectares, comprised of 34,800 hectares of hardwood plantations and 195,600 hectares of softwood plantations.

In 2016, Queensland had 77 sawmills (including 31 softwood sawmills), 3 post and pole processors, 6 wood-based panel processors and 2 paper and paperboard processors.

In 2016, there were 51.6 million hectares of native forests in Queensland, comprised mainly of Eucalypt Medium Woodland (27.1 million hectares), Melaleuca (5.1 million hectares) and Acacia (5.1 million hectares).

In 2017–18 the volume of native hardwood logs harvested in Queensland was 279 thousand cubic metres valued at $39.7 million. There were no plantation hardwood logs harvested in this period. The volume of softwood logs harvested was 2.9 million cubic metres valued at $257.6 million.

In 2017–18, the estimated sales and service income generated from the sale of wood products in Queensland was $2.6 billion. Sales and service income for paper and paper products is not available for 2017–18.

In 2016 the Queensland forestry sector employed 9,520 workers (0.45 per cent) of the total employed workforce in Queensland compared with 12,840 (0.63 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.

DEEDI 2009, Prospects for Queensland's primary industries 2009–10, Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, Brisbane, Queensland.

Heaven, C 2018, Queensland Fisheries Summary (PDF 807 KB), Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane, Queensland

McCarthy, M 2016, White spot outbreak a ‘wake-up call’ for Australia’s biosecurity system, as prawn farmers claim imports are to blame, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 23 December 2019, accessed 15 October 2019. 

Mobsby, D & Curtotti, R 2019, ABARES annual fisheries outlook 2019, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, Department of Agriculture, Canberra, accessed 5 October 2019.

QDAF 2020a, QFish, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane, Queensland.

QDAF 2020b, Statewide recreational Fishing Surveys, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane, Queensland.

Schofield, R 2020, Ross Lobegeiger report to farmers Aquaculture production summary for Queensland 2018-19 (PDF 2.4 MB), Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane, Queensland.

Webley, J, McInnes, K, Teixeira, D, Lawson A & Quinn, R 2015, Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey 2013-14, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane, Queensland.

Lobegeiger, R, 2018, Aquaculture production summary for Queensland 2016–17, Queensland Government.

Last reviewed: 24 July 2020
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