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 November 2019 Labour Force Survey indicate that around 132,000 people were employed in the Cairns region. The region accounts for 5 per cent of total employment in Queensland and 7 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 18,500 people, followed by retail trade with 14,200 people, and construction with 13,600 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 5,200 people, representing 4 per cent of the region's workforce.

Employment profile, Cairns region, November 2019
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 2019

Agricultural sector

Value of agricultural production

In 2017–18, the gross value of agricultural production in the Cairns region was $999 million, which was 8 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Queensland ($13 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 ($463 million), followed by sugarcane ($273 million) and avocados ($79 million). These commodities together contributed 82 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the region. In 2016–18 the Cairns region accounted for 98 per cent of the total value of Queensland's bananas production.

Value of agricultural production, Cairns region, 2017–18
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 2019

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 port in Queensland. It is the fourth largest home port for the Commonwealth Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery and a home port for the Commonwealth Northern Prawn fishery. The diverse range of wild-caught species in this region include: prawns, barramundi, coral trout, Spanish mackerel, tuna and lobster. The East Coast Trawl Fishery is the largest of Queensland's commercial fisheries operating in the region targeting mostly prawns, but also harvests bugs, squid, and other species.

The Far North area produced 3,717 tonnes of aquaculture production in 2016–17 utilising 329 hectares of ponds. The aquaculture industry in the area employed approximately 177.4 persons in 2016–17 (Lobegeiger 2018). Aquaculture species produced in the Far North area include barramundi, jade perch, prawns and pearls.

Recreational fishing is a popular activity in far north Queensland. The proportion of residents in this area that fish at least once each year is 23 per cent, significantly higher than the Queensland average of 17 per cent (Taylor et al. 2012). Fishers from the Cairns region fish mostly in the local coastal waters and adjacent reefs within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park from boats, or in the central coast catchment to the south from the shore and from boats. Common species caught by fishers are coral trout, pikey bream, tropical snapper, barramundi, trumpeter whiting, mangrove jack, Spanish mackerel and mud crab. The number of barramundi caught by fishers in the far north is about twice that of any other fish species although it is not the most common fish harvested, due to the high proportion of released fish. This region is a popular destination for fishers travelling from other regions of Queensland, elsewhere in Australia and overseas.

In 2015–16 the total gross value of Queensland's fisheries production was $291.1 million, a decrease of 1 per cent ($2.1 million) from 2014–15. Queensland contributed 10 per cent of the total value of Australian fisheries production in 2015–16. In value terms, the wild-catch sector accounted for 60 per cent ($175.9 million) of the state's total production and the aquaculture sector accounted for the remaining 40 per cent ($118.3 million).

Queensland's wild-catch fisheries sector provides a range of fisheries products. The highest contribution being from prawns, which account for 36 per cent of the total value of wild-catch fisheries production with a value of $62.7 million, followed by coral trout (15 per cent; $26.8 million) and crabs (14 per cent; $24.2 million). Over the last decade the real value of Queensland's wild-caught fisheries products has reduced by 37 per cent. Prawns, snapper and shark, showed the largest decline in the value of production over the past decade, reducing by 35 per cent, 77 per cent and 66 per cent respectively. Competition from imported prawns in the domestic market has also placed significant downward pressure on prices in recent years.

The value of Queensland's aquaculture production has increased by 4 per cent in 2015–16 to $118.3 million. Prawn and barramundi farming account for the largest share of production by value, with prawns accounting for 68 per cent, and $80.5 million of production, followed by barramundi (25 per cent; $29.3 million).

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 tuna) and the Coral Sea Fishery.

In 2015–16, Queensland's fisheries product exports were valued at $199.6 million. The main export products include live and fresh, chilled or frozen fish, prawns and rock lobster. Hong Kong, Japan and the United States are the major destinations for Queensland fisheries exports, accounting for 42 per cent, 17 per cent and 14 per cent of the total value of exports in 2015–16, respectively. Other major export destinations include China (7 per cent) and Vietnam (4 per cent).

Recreational fishing is popular in Queensland. The results of the 2013–14 state wide and regional recreational fishing survey report that recreational fishing continues to be a popular activity; however the participation rate has dropped from 17 per cent in 2010 to 15 per cent in 2013. In the 12 months prior to November 2013 approximately 700,000 Queenslanders went recreational fishing (QDAF 2015). Total expenditure in the sector is 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 and Australia. Popular target species include crabs, prawns and a range of finfish species including cods and groupers, coral trout, redthroat emperor, rosy snapper, and mackerel. For freshwater activity some key species caught include barramundi, eels, silver perch, and yabby and blueclaw crayfish.

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 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.

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

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

QDAF 2015, Statewide recreational Fishing Surveys, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane, Queensland.

Taylor, S, Webley, J & McInnes, K 2012, 2010 Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Brisbane, Queensland.

Last reviewed: 22 January 2020
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