About my region – South Australia

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 South Australia and the recent financial performance of the South Australian broadacre, dairy, and vegetable industries.

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Regional overview

South Australia covers a total area of around 983,300 square kilometres and is home to approximately 1.7 million people (ABS 2018). Agricultural land in South Australia occupies 522,300 square kilometres, or about 53 per cent of the state. Areas classified as conservation and natural environments (nature conservation, protected areas and minimal use) occupy 417,600 square kilometres, or 42 per cent of the state. The most common land use by area is grazing native vegetation, which occupies 410,100 square kilometres or 42 per cent of the state (ABARES 2016).

Broad land use in South Australia
Shows a map of broad land use in South Australia. 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 852,900 people were employed in South Australia.

Health care and social assistance was the largest employment sector with 129,100 people, followed by retail trade with 89,200 people, and education and training with 77,100 people. Other important employment sectors in the state were construction; manufacturing; and accommodation and food services. The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector employed 32,700 people, representing around 4 per cent of the state's workforce.

Employment profile, South Australia, November 2019
Shows the number of people employed in South Australia 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 South Australia was $6.6 billion, which was 11 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Australia ($59 billion).

The most important commodities in South Australia based on the gross value of agricultural production were wheat ($959 million), followed by sheep and lambs ($575 million) and wool ($569 million). These commodities together contributed 32 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the state.

Value of agricultural production, South Australia, 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 9,010 farms in South Australia with an estimated value of agricultural operations of $40,000 or more. The state contains 11 per cent of all farm businesses in Australia.

Number of farms, by industry classification, South Australia, 2017–18
Industry classification South Australia region Australia
Number of farms % of Region Number of farms Contribution of SA to Australian total %
Grain-Sheep or Grain-Beef Cattle Farming        1,910 21          9,991 19
Other Grain Growing        1,813 20          9,030 20
Grape Growing        1,318 15          2,561 51
Sheep Farming (Specialised)        1,273 14          8,443 15
Beef Cattle Farming (Specialised)           675 7        21,919 3
Sheep-Beef Cattle Farming           578 6          5,221 11
Vegetable Growing (Outdoors)           248 3          2,545 10
Dairy Cattle Farming           216 2          5,384 4
Citrus Fruit Growing           190 2              755 25
Vegetable Growing (Under Cover)           164 2              331 50
Other           626 7        12,843 5
Total agriculture        9,010 100        79,021 11

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. Grain-sheep or grain-beef cattle farms (1,910 farms) were the most common, accounting for about 21 per cent of all farms in South Australia.

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 South Australia had an EVAO between $50,000 and $150,000. These farms accounted for only 4 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in 2017–18. In comparison, 16 per cent of farms in the state had an EVAO of more than $1 million and accounted for an estimated 55 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in South Australia in 2017–18.

Distribution of farms by estimated value of agricultural operations, South Australia, 2017–18
Shows share of farms and share of value of agricultural operations in the South Australia 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, dairy and vegetable farms in South Australia.

Fisheries sector

In 2015–16 the gross value of South Australia's fisheries production was around $517 million, an increase of 10 per cent ($48 million) from 2014–15. South Australia contributed 17 per cent of the total value of Australian fisheries production in 2015–16. In value terms, the wild–catch sector accounted for 51 per cent ($265 million) of the state's total production and the aquaculture sector accounted for the remaining 49 per cent ($252 million).

South Australia's wild–catch fisheries sector is dominated by four main products — Southern rock lobster, prawns, Australian sardines and abalone — which account for 52 per cent, 17 per cent, 10 per cent and 8 per cent respectively of the total value of wild-caught production in 2014–15. Over the last decade the real value of South Australia's wild-caught fisheries products has increased by 7 per cent to $265 million (2015–16). The product for which the real value of production increased most over the past decade are wild-caught rock lobster, increasing by $34 million. A large proportion of abalone is exported, mostly to Hong Kong, China and Japan. Exchange rate movements have a significant effect on the value of abalone exports and, in turn, production. Prawns are mostly sold in the domestic market, where competition from imports has placed significant downward pressure on prices in recent years.

Most Australian sardine production is used as a high quality feed in tuna ranching operations located off Port Lincoln in South Australia. A small portion also goes toward human consumption, the recreational fishing bait market and premium brands of pet food.

In 2015–16 the value of South Australia's aquaculture production is estimated to have increased by 11 per cent from $227 million in 2014–15 to $252 million in 2015–16. Southern bluefin tuna is the single most valuable species in the region and South Australia's aquaculture industry, and is ranched by the Commonwealth Southern Bluefin Tuna fishery for fattening in sea cages at Port Lincoln. Southern bluefin tuna accounted for 50 per cent (127 million) of the value of South Australian aquaculture production, followed by oysters (12 per cent; $31 million) and abalone (6 per cent; $15 million).

Commonwealth fisheries active in waters off South Australia include the Commonwealth Trawl Sector (main source of domestic fresh fish for Sydney and Melbourne markets) the Shark Gillnet and Shark Hook Sectors (supplies gummy shark or flake to Melbourne) of the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery and the Great Australian Bight sector of the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery harvesting mainly redfish and flathead. The Small Pelagic Fishery (mostly fishmeal for aquaculture and agriculture) also operates in the waters off South Australia.

In 2014–15, South Australia's fisheries product exports were valued at $250 million. The main export products include tuna, Southern rock lobster and abalone. Japan and Vietnam are the major destinations for South Australian fisheries exports, accounting for 49 per cent and 23per cent of the total value of exports in 2015–16, respectively. Other major export destinations include Hong Kong (13 per cent), China (3 per cent) and Singapore (2 per cent).

Recreational fishing is popular in South Australia with an estimated 277,027 South Australians (5 years and over) participating in the activity in the 12 months prior to November 2013. In its survey of recreational fishers in South Australia found that most fishing effort is directed to Spencer Gulf (37 per cent), the Gulf St. Vincent and Kangaroo Island waters (28 per cent), followed by West Coast (16 per cent) and the South East waters (6 per cent). Most (87 per cent) fishing effort occurred in marine waters, including estuaries, and inshore and offshore waters. The remaining 13 per cent of effort was in freshwater activity, with the majority of this effort occurring in the River Murray. The key species caught by recreational fishers include Australian salmon, blue swimmer crab, King George whiting, mulloway, snapper, southern calamari, southern garfish, southern rock lobster and pipi.

Forestry sector

In 2017–18, the total plantation area in South Australia was 172,200 hectares, comprised of 44,800 hectares of hardwood plantations and 127,200 hectares of softwood plantations.

In 2016, South Australia had 13 sawmills, 2 post and pole processors, 2 wood-based panel processors and one paper and paperboard processor.

In 2016, there were 4.8 million hectares of native forests in South Australia, comprised mainly of Eucalypt Mallee Woodland (3.7 million hectares), Casuarina (252,400 hectares) and Eucalypt Mallee Open (208,100 hectares).

In 2017–18 the volume of plantation hardwood logs harvested was 1.1 million cubic metres valued at $88.0 million. The volume of softwood logs harvested was 3.1 million cubic metres valued at $245.7 million. There is no native hardwood harvesting in South Australia.

In 2017–18, the estimated sales and service income generated from the sale of wood products in South Australia was $1.2 billion. Sales and service income for paper and paper products is not available for 2017–18.

In 2016 the South Australia forestry sector employed 5,520 workers (0.74 per cent) of the total employed workforce in South Australia compared with 6,500 (0.88 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, 2018, 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.

Last reviewed: 22 January 2020
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