About my region – Western Australia – Outback (South)

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 (South) 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 (South) region comprises 29 local government areas, and includes the regional towns of Carnarvon, Esperance, Geraldton and Kalgoorlie. The region covers a total area of around 1,371,600 square kilometres or 54 per cent of Western Australia's total area and is home to approximately 120,100 people (ABS 2018).

Agricultural land in the Western Australia – Outback (South) region occupies 586,100 square kilometres, or 43 per cent of the region. Areas classified as conservation and natural environments (nature conservation, protected areas and minimal use) occupy 761,100 square kilometres, or 55 per cent of the region. The most common land use by area is grazing native vegetation, which occupies 543,500 square kilometres or 40 per cent of the Western Australia – Outback (South) region (ABARES 2016).

Broad land use in the Western Australia - Outback (South) region
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
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 (South) region was $2.5 billion, which was 24 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Western Australia ($10.7 billion).

The Western Australia – Outback (South) region has a diverse agricultural sector. The most important commodities in the region based on the gross value of agricultural production were wheat ($1.3 billion), followed by canola ($312 million) and barley ($303 million). These commodities together contributed 75 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the region.

Value of agricultural production, Western Australian - Outback (South) region, 2018–19
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 1,389 farms in the Western Australia – Outback (South) region with an estimated value of agricultural operations of $40,000 or more. The region contains 19 per cent of all farm businesses in Western Australia.

Number of farms, by industry classification, Western Australia - Outback (South) region, 2017–18
Industry classification Western Australia – Outback (South) region Western Australia
Number of farms % of Region Number of farms Contribution of region
to state total
%
Other Grain Growing        609 43.9      2,009 30.3
Grain-Sheep or Grain-Beef Cattle Farming        307 22.1      1,932 15.9
Beef Cattle Farming (Specialised)        209 15.0      1,045 19.9
Sheep Farming (Specialised)           80 5.8          626 12.8
Vegetable Growing (Outdoors)           73 5.2          343 21.1
Sheep-Beef Cattle Farming           46 3.3          240 19.1
Other Fruit and Tree Nut Growing           20 1.4            86 23.0
Other           46 3.3      1,008 4.5
Total agriculture     1,389 100      7,290 19.1

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. Other grain growing farms (609 farms) were the most common, accounting for 44 per cent of all farms in the Western Australia – Outback (South) region, and 30 per cent of other grain growing 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 14 per cent of farms in the Western Australia – Outback (South) 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, 40 per cent of farms in the region had an EVAO of more than $1 million and accounted for an estimated 81 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in the Western Australia – Outback (South) region in 2017–18.

Distribution of farms by estimated value of agricultural operations, Western Australia - Outback (South) region, 2017–18
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 (South) region covers most of the southern half of the state. Three bioregions are active in the area, including all of the Gascoyne Coast bioregion, around two-thirds of the South Coast bioregion, and a portion of the West Coast bioregion (Fletcher & Santoro 2012).

The Gascoyne Coast bioregion is particularly important to the Outback (South) region and Western Australia as a whole, being home to several of the states more valuable fisheries including the Shark Bay Prawn fishery, the Exmouth Gulf Prawn Fishery and the Shark Bay Scallop fishery. These fisheries have an estimated combined annual value of $40 to $50 million, landing 2,321 tonnes of Prawns and 320.4 tonnes of meat weight of Scallops in 2017. The Gascoyne Demersal Scalefish Fishery and Shark Bay Beach Seine and Mesh Net Fishery also operate in the area and provide a significant percentage of the state’s Breams and Whitings catch (Gaughan et al 2019).

Other important fisheries in the area includes the West Coast Rock Lobster Managed Fishery in the West Coast Bioregion which had a total commercial catch of 6,400 tonnes ($386 million) in 2017 and the Greenlip/Brownlip Abalone Fishery in the South Coast region which caught 98 tonnes ($4.7 million) in 2017 (Gaughan et al 2019).

Aquaculture is also present in the region, with Blacklip Pearl Oyster and aquarium species harvested in the Gascoyne region, Blue Mussels and marine algae in the West Coast bioregion and Abalone farming near Bremer Bay in the South Coast bioregion (Gaughan et al 2019).

Recreational fishing is also popular in the region. In the Gascoyne Coast bioregion, beach and cliff fishing, embayment and shallow-water boat angling and offshore boat angling are all popular with target species including Emperors, Tropical Snappers, Groupers, Mackerels, Cods, Trevallies, Blue Swimmer Crab and Squid. In the West Coast bioregion, Western Rock Lobster potting and hand collection is the primary recreational activity, with 373 to 539 tonnes caught by licensed recreational fishers in 2017. In the South Coast bioregion recreational fishing tends to be concentrated around major population centres with common target species including West Australian Salmon, Australian Herring, Writings, Breams and Trevallies (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.

Fletcher, W & Santoro, K (eds) 2012, Status reports of the fisheries and aquatic resources of Western Australia 2011–12: State of the fisheries. Fish for the future (PDF 9.0 MB), Department of Fisheries, 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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