About my region – Western Australia – Outback (North)

​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 Western Australia – Outback (North) region and the recent Western Australia financial performance of the broadacre, dairy and vegetable industries.

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Regional overview

The Western Australia – Outback (North) region comprises 8 local government areas, and includes the regional towns of Broome, Exmouth, Geraldton, Kununurra and Port Hedland. The region covers a total area of around 924,700 square kilometres or 37 per cent of Western Australia's total area and is home to approximately 97,500 people (ABS 2018).

Agricultural land in the Western Australia – Outback (North) region occupies 345,300 square kilometres, or less than 37 per cent of the region. Areas classified as conservation and natural environments (nature conservation, protected areas and minimal use) occupy 563,100 square kilometres, or 61 per cent of the region. The most common land use by area is other minimal use, which occupies 382,100 square kilometres or 41 per cent of the Western Australia – Outback (North) region (ABARES 2016).

Broad land use in the Western Australia - Outback (North) region
Shows a map of broad land use in the Western Australia - 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 107,600 people were employed in the Western Australia – Outback (North and South) region. The region accounts for 8 per cent of total employment in Western Australia and 10 per cent of all people employed in the Western Australian agriculture, forestry and fishing sector.

Mining was the largest employment sector with 19,300 people, followed by public administration and safety with 12,500 people, and health care and social assistance with 11,000 people. Other important employment sectors in the region were retail trade; construction; and education and training. The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector employed 3,700 people, representing 3 per cent of the region's workforce.

Employment profile, Western Australia Outback region, May 2020

waoutback_empl_2020may.png
Note: May 2020 Labour force survey data is based on ABS Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) 2011. As such employment data for the Western Australian Outback region is only available as an aggregate of Western Australia - Outback (North) and Western Australia - Outback (South). 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 Western Australia – Outback (North) region was $434 million, which was 4 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Western Australia ($10.7 billion).

The Western Australia – Outback (North) region has a diverse agricultural sector. The most important commodity in the region based on the gross value of agricultural production was cattle and calves ($375 million) which contributed 86 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the region. Other important commodities in the region were melons ($17 million) and maize ($10 million).

Value of agricultural production, Western Australia - Outback (North) 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 132 farms in the Western Australia – Outback (North) region with an estimated value of agricultural operations of $40,000 or more. The region contains 2 per cent of all farm businesses in Western Australia.

Number of farms, by industry classification, Western Australia - Outback (North) region, 2017–18
Industry classification Western Australia – Outback (North) region Western Australia
Number of farms % of Region Number of farms Contribution of region
to state total
%
Beef Cattle Farming (Specialised)           84 63.7      1,045 8.0
Vegetable Growing (Outdoors)           33 24.6          343 9.5
Other Grain Growing             4 2.8      2,009 0.2
Turf Growing             3 2.1            31 8.9
Citrus Fruit Growing             3 2.0            35 7.7
Other             6 4.8      3,827 0.2
Total agriculture        132 100      7,290 1.8

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 (84 farms) were the most common, accounting for 64 per cent of all farms in the Western Australia – Outback (North) region, and 8 per cent of beef cattle farms in Western 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 17 per cent of farms in the Western Australia – Outback (North) region had an EVAO between $50,000 and $150,000. These farms accounted for around 1 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in 2017–18. In comparison, 60 per cent of farms in the region had an EVAO of more than $1 million and accounted for an estimated 92 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in the Western Australia – Outback (North) region in 2017–18.

Distribution of farms by estimated value of agricultural operations, Western Australia - Outback (North) region, 2017–18
Shows share of farms and share of value of agricultural operations in the Western Australia - 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, dairy, and vegetable farms in Western Australia.

Fisheries sector

Western Australia’s – Outback (North) region covers all areas in the state north of Onslaw and is important to both state and Commonwealth fisheries. Fifteen different marine state managed fisheries are active in the area, the most valuable of which are the Pilbara trap, line and trawl fisheries and the Northern Demersal Scalefish Fishery. These fisheries target high value tropical Finfish, particularly Emperors, Breams and Cods, and catch up to 3,000 to 4,000 tonnes annually, with an estimated annual value of more than $10 million. Other significant fisheries in the area include the four Northern Prawn Fisheries (Kimberly, Broome, Nickol Bay and Onslow) which landed 497 tonnes in 2018, the Pearl Oyster Managed Fishery (the only significant wild-stock fishery for Pearl Oysters in the world) landed 468,573 shells in 2018 and the Lake Argyle Silver Cobbler Fishery which is the only commercial freshwater fishery in the state (Gaughan et al 2019). The region is also home to the offshore Commonwealth North West Slope Trawl fishery which targets Scampi. In 2017–18 this fishery caught 79.7 tonnes that was primarily landed in Darwin in the Northern Territory and Port Samson in the region.

Aquaculture is also an important economic asset to the region and is dominated by the production of Pearl Oysters, with major hatcheries operating in Broome and the Dampier Peninsular and major farm sites along the Kimberley coast. Finfish aquaculture in the region is dominated by Barramundi (Gaughan et al 2019).

Recreational fishing in the region has shown significant growth in recent years, with a winter seasonal peak when tourists visit Onslow, Dampier Archipelago and Broome. Most angling is boat-based due to the high tidal range with target species including Barramundi, Tropical Emperors and Breams, Mangrove Jack, Trevallies, Sooty Grunter, Threadfin, Cods, Catfishes, Blue Swimmer Crab, Mud Crabs and Squid (Gaughan et al 2019).

Western Australia state data

In 2017–18, the gross value product (GVP) of Western Australian fisheries production (both aquaculture and wild-catch) was $633.7 million, an increase of 2% ($13.9 million) from 2016–17. Western Australia accounted for 20% of the total value of Australian fisheries production in 2017–18. In value terms, the wild-catch sector accounted for around 87.5% ($554.5 million) of the state's total production and the aquaculture sector accounted for the remaining 12.5% ($79.2 million).

The GVP of Western Australia wild-catch fisheries increased by 5% in 2017–18 to $554.5 million. Western Rock Lobster is the single most significant contributor to Western Australia wild-catch fisheries GVP, contributing 79% ($438.1 million) of total wild-caught production value in 2017–18 with an increase of 9% from 2016–17. The Western Rock Lobster industry is highly export oriented with China being the main export destination. Increased production volume have offset a slight decline in average unit prices. The increase in production in financial year terms was due to an increase in total allowable catch (TAC) as well as the distribution of the catch across the full calendar year. Generally, catch is highest in the first couple of months of the calendar year, coinciding with Lunar New Year.

Other major wild-catch seafood products include Prawns (6.4%; $35.3 million), Tropical Snappers (2.8%; $15.5 million) and Scallops (2.4%; $13.1 million). In 2017–18 wild-catch Prawns production decreased by 21%, while Scallop production decreased by 14% after a 227% increase between 2015–16 and 2016–17. Tropical Snapper wild-catch production increased by 11% in 2017–18. Over the past decade the real value of Western Australian wild-caught fisheries is estimated to have increased by 37%. The real value of Western Australian aquaculture has declined over the past decade by almost 50% to $79.2 million in 2017–18. Most of the decline can be attributed to a reduction in the value of Pearl Oyster production. In the 10 years to 2017–18, the real value (in 2017–18 dollars) of Pearl Oyster GVP fell from $141.2 million to $52.6 million and its contribution to aquaculture production value fell from 92% to 66%. Aquaculture in Western Australia has further potential for growth as a result of recent announcements regarding the creation of two new aquaculture zones in the Kimberly and the state’s Mid West and a hatchery in Albany. Such measures facilitate the setting up and expansion of aquaculture operations.

In 2017–18, the value of aquaculture production decreased by 12% ($11.2 million) to $79.2 million. Pearl Oysters are the most valuable aquaculture product in the state and contributed around 66% ($52.6 million) of aquaculture production value in 2017–18. The edible seafood component of Western Australia's aquaculture sector accounted for 34% ($26.6 million) of total aquaculture production value in 2017–18.

In 2018–19, Western Australia's seafood product exports were valued at $542.8 million. The main export seafood product is Western Rock Lobster, which accounted for 87% of the state's exports of seafood in 2018–19, followed by Prawns at 3%. China and Hong Kong are the major destinations for Western Australia fisheries exports, accounting for 84% and 7% of the total value of exports in 2018–19, respectively. Other export destinations include the United States of America (2%), Japan (2%), Vietnam (1%) and Singapore (1%).

Recreational fishing is a popular activity in Western Australia, with an estimated 619,000 people fishing recreationally in the state in 2018–19 (Addis 2019). Most of the activity is in the West Coast bioregion, around Perth and the surrounding area. Most boat-based recreational fishing effort occurred in coastal nearshore (60%), inshore demersal (25%) and estuary habitats (11%), and the remainder in pelagic (2%), offshore demersal (1%) and freshwater (1%). The key species caught by recreational fishers include School Whiting, Australian Herring, Pink Snapper, West Australian Dhufish, Silver Trevally, Black Bream, King George Whiting, Western King Wrasse, Breaksea Cod and Baldchin Groper (Ryan et al. 2017).

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 Western Australia - Outback (North and South) region was about 52,000 hectares, comprised of 46,410 hectares of hardwood plantations and 5,620 hectares of softwood plantations. In the Western Australia - Outback (North and South) region, the main hardwood plantation species is Tasmanian blue gum with Eucalyptus spp. and sugar gum. The major softwood plantation species is maritime pine.

In 2016 there were about 15.0 million hectares of native forests in the Western Australia - Outback (North and South) region, comprised mainly of eucalypt medium (5.2 million hectares), eucalypt mallee (5.1 million hectares) and acacia (3.1 million hectares). The majority of the native forests were Crown land (6,374,000 hectares), while 3,882,600 hectares were leasehold land and 3,177,800 hectares were on in conservation reserves. There were 62,000 hectares in multiple use native forest available for wood production.

Western Australia state data

In 2017–18, the total plantation area in Western Australia was 361,700 hectares, comprised of 253,500 hectares of hardwood plantations and 99,700 hectares of softwood plantations.

In 2016, Western Australia had 28 sawmills (including 2 softwood sawmills), 4 post and pole processors and 2 wood based panel processors.

In 2016, there were 20.4 million hectares of native forests in Western Australia, comprised mainly of eucalypt medium (8.6 million hectares), eucalypt mallee (6.3 million hectares) and acacia (3.2 million hectares).

In 2017–18, the volume of native hardwood logs harvested in Western Australia was 366 thousand cubic metres, valued at $26.9 million. The volume of plantation hardwood logs harvested in Western Australia was 3.3 million cubic metres, valued at $268.6 million. The volume of plantation softwood logs harvested in Western Australia was 849 thousand cubic metres, valued at $58.8 million.

In 2017–18, the estimated sales and service income generated from the sale of wood products in Western Australia was $1.1 billion.  Sales and service income for paper and paper products is not available for 2017–18.

In 2016, the Western Australia forestry sector employed 3,746 workers (0.3 per cent) of the total employed workforce in Western Australia) compared with 5,283 (0.5 per cent) in 2011. The number of people employed includes in the following industries: 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 16 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.

Addis, D 2019, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development Annual Report 2019 (PDF 8.4 MB). Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Perth Western Australia.

Gaughan, DJ, Molony, B & Santoro, K 2019, Status reports of the fisheries and aquatic resources of Western Australia 2017/18 State of the fisheries. Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Perth, Western Australia.

Ryan, KL, Hall, NG, Lai EK, Smallwood, CB, Taylor, SM & Wise, BS 2017, Statewide survey of boat-based recreational fishing in Western Australia 2015/16. Fisheries Research Report No. 287, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia. 205pp.

Last reviewed: 29 July 2020
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