About my region – Queensland – Outback

​​​​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 and fisheries sectors in the Queensland – Outback region and the recent Queensland financial performance of the broadacre, dairy and vegetable industries.

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​​​Regional overview

The Queensland – Outback region includes in the west and the far north of the state, and spans from the tip of Cape York to the borders of the Northern Territory and New South Wales. The region comprises 34 local government areas. The region includes the regional centres of Charleville, Longreach and Mount Isa. The region covers a total area of around 1,182,300 square kilometres, or 68 per cent of Queensland's total area, and is home to approximately 82,200 people (ABS 2018).

Agricultural land in the Queensland – Outback region occupies 1,022,500 square kilometres, or 86 per cent of the region. Areas classified as conservation and natural environments (nature conservation, protected areas and minimal use) occupy 147,400 square kilometres, or 12 per cent of the region. The most common land use by area is grazing native vegetation, which occupies 965,700 square kilometres or 82 per cent of the Queensland – Outback region (ABARES 2016).

Broad land use in the Queensland – Outback region
Shows a map of broad land use in the Queensland 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 42,800 people were employed in the Queensland – Outback region. The region accounts for 2 per cent of total employment in Queensland and 17 per cent of all people employed in the Queensland agriculture, forestry and fishing sector.

Agriculture, forestry and fishing was the largest employment sector with 14,000 people, followed by mining with 4,800 people, and health care and social assistance with 4,100 people. Other important employment sectors in the region were public administration and safety; education and training; and retail trade. The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector represented 33 per cent of the region's workforce.

Employment profile, Queensland - Outback region, May 2020
Shows the number of people employed in the Outback 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 Queensland – Outback region was $2.3 billion, which was 18 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Queensland ($12.9 billion).

The most important commodity in the region based on the gross value of agricultural production was cattle and calves ($2 billion) which contributed 88 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the region. Other important commodities in the region were wool ($65 million) followed by mangoes ($34 million).

Value of agricultural production, Queensland – 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 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 1,769 farms in the Queensland – Outback region with an estimated value of agricultural operations of $40,000 or more. The region contains 10 per cent of all farm businesses in Queensland.

Number of farms, by industry classification, Queensland – Outback region, 2017–18
Industry classification Queensland – Outback Queensland
Number of farms % of Region Number of farms Contribution of region to state total %
Beef Cattle Farming (Specialised)     1,298 73.4      8,288 15.7
Sheep-Beef Cattle Farming        183 10.4          291 63.0
Sheep Farming (Specialised)           78 4.4          166 46.9
Other Fruit and Tree Nut Growing           67 3.8          761 8.8
Citrus Fruit Growing           52 3.0          201 26.1
Vegetable Growing (Outdoors)           22 1.3          639 3.5
Other           68 3.8      7,002 1.0
Total agriculture     1,769 100    17,348 10.2

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 (1,298 farms) were the most common, accounting for 73 per cent of all farms in the Queensland – Outback region, and 16 per cent of all beef 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 13 per cent of farms in the Queensland – Outback region had an EVAO between $50,000 and $150,000. These farms accounted for about 1 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in 2017–18. In comparison, 31 per cent of farms in the region had an EVAO of more than $ 1 million and accounted for an estimated 72 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in the Queensland – Outback region in 2017–18.

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

Fisheries sector

The coastal areas of outback Queensland include the Gulf of Carpentaria, the coastal areas of Cape York and the Torres Strait. The Gulf of Carpentaria is particularly important to several state fisheries including:

  • the Gulf of Carpentaria Line Fishery which predominantly targets Spanish Mackerel and is used for commercial, recreational and indigenous harvest (DPI&F 2008);
  • the Gulf of Carpentaria Inshore Fin Fish Fishery which targets Mackerels, Barramundi, Sharks, Jewfish, Threadfins and Queenfishes (QDAF 2019);
  • the Gulf of Carpentaria Developmental Fin Fish Trawl Fishery  which targets Breams, and;
  • the Crayfish and Rocklobster Fishery (Heaven 2018).

In 2018–19 the Outback region was the source of 4,326 tonnes of commercial catch including 791 tonnes of Grey Mackerel, 683 tonnes of Tiger Prawns, 523 tonnes of Barramundi, 303 tonnes of Coral Trout, 262 tonnes of Spanish Mackerel and 253 tonnes Mud Crabs (QDAF 2020a).

The main Commonwealth fishery in the Gulf of Carpentaria is the Commonwealth Northern Prawn Fishery, one of the most valuable single gear fishery managed by the Commonwealth ($98.2 million in the 2018 fishing season), which extends across Northern Australia. This fishery targets Tiger and Banana Prawns in the Torres Strait. Other Commonwealth fisheries in the region include the Torres Strait Finfish Fishery targeting Spanish Mackerel and Coral Trouts ($1 million in 2017–18), the Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery ($15 million in 2017–18), the Torres Strait Prawn Fishery ($4.6 million in 2017–18) and the Torres Strait Beche-de-mer and Trochus fishery.  

Fisheries in the Torres Strait area are managed under the 1985 Torres Strait Treaty between Australian and Papua New Guinea. Marine resources are a staple in the diet of Torres Strait Islanders, as well as being central to traditional island culture and a primary source of income.

The region is also important for Pearl Oyster production, both farming and wild-catch (The Queensland East Coast Pearl Fishery and Torres Strait Pearl Shell Fishery). Aquaculture production in Outback Queensland had a total value of $1.6 million in 2017–18, producing 132.1 tonnes of various species including Barramundi, Jade Perch, Prawns and Pearl Oysters (Schofield 2020). 

The outback region of Queensland is sparsely populated but has a high participation rate of recreational fishing amongst its residents at 28.7% in the west and 36.4% in the far north hinterland, which is significantly higher than the state average of 18.7% (Webley et al 2015). The Murray-Darling River and the catchments around the Gulf are the most heavily fished by residents of the outback region. In the freshwater rivers and dams catch consists mainly of Golden Perch and Yabbies. In the Gulf Country and Cape York, other commonly targeted species include Barramundi, Bared Javelin, Mud Crabs and Sand Whiting. On the east coast of Cape York Coral Trouts, Crimson and Saddletail Snapper, Mud Crabs and Barramundi are the dominant species in the recreational catch (Webley et al 2015). The Gulf Country is a popular destination for fishers living in other Queensland regions as well as fishing tourists from New South Wales and Victoria.

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 Queensland – Outback region was comprised of 2,600 hectares of hardwood 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 29.8 million hectares of native forests in the Queensland – Outback region, comprised mainly of Eucalypt Medium Woodland (15.4 million hectares), Melaleuca (4.8 million hectares) and Acacia (3.7 million hectares). The majority of the native forests were leasehold land (20,374,600 hectares), while 7,159,000 hectares were privately managed and 1,564,900 hectares were on in conservation reserves.

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.

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.

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

DPI&F 2008, Annual status report 2008 Gulf of Carpentaria Line Fishery (PDF 226 KB), Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, 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 2019, Queensland Gulf of Carpentaria Inshore Fin Fish Fishery (PDF 2 MB), Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane, Queensland.

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.

Last reviewed: 24 July 2020
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