About my region – Western Australia – Wheat Belt

​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 – Wheat Belt region and the recent Western Australia financial performance of the broadacre, dairy and vegetable industries.

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Regional overview

The Wheat Belt region is located in the south-west corner of Western Australia. The region comprises 55 local government areas, and the regional towns of Albany, Merredin, Moora and Northam. The region covers a total area of around 197,300 square kilometres or 8 per cent of Western Australia's total area and is home to approximately 137,700 people (ABS 2018).

Agricultural land in the Wheat Belt region occupies 124,300 square kilometres, or 63 per cent of the region. Areas classified as conservation and natural environments (nature conservation, protected areas and minimal use) occupy 62,100 square kilometres, or 31 per cent of the region. The most common land use by area is dryland cropping, which occupies 60,600 square kilometres or 31 per cent of the Wheat Belt region (ABARES 2016).

Broad land use in the Western Australia - Wheat Belt region
Shows a map of broad land use in the Wheat Belt 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 71,900 people were employed in the Wheat Belt region. The region accounts for 5 per cent of total employment in Western Australia and 51 per cent of all people employed in the Western Australian agriculture, forestry and fishing sector.

Agriculture, forestry and fishing was the largest employment sector with 17,900 people, representing 25 per cent of the region's workforce. Education and training was the second largest employment sector with 7,700 people, followed by health care and social assistance with 6,200 people. Other important employment sectors in the region were construction; retail trade; and manufacturing.

Employment profile, Western Australia - Wheat Belt region, May 2020
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 Western Australia – Wheat Belt region was $6.5 billion, which was 60 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Western Australia ($10.7 billion).

The Western Australia – Wheat Belt region has a diverse agricultural sector. The most important commodities in the region based on the gross value of agricultural production were wheat ($2.1 billion), followed by barley ($1.3 billion) and wool ($801 million). These commodities together contributed 65 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the region.

Value of agricultural production, Western Australian - Wheat Belt 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 4,095 farms in the Western Australia – Wheat Belt region with an estimated value of agricultural operations of $40,000 or more. The region contains 56 per cent of all farm businesses in Western Australia.

Number of farms, by industry classification, Western Australia - Wheat Belt region, 2017–18
Industry classification Western Australia – Wheat Belt region Western Australia
Number of farms % of Region Number of farms Contribution of region
to state total
%
Grain-Sheep or Grain-Beef Cattle Farming     1,560 38.1      1,932 80.7
Other Grain Growing     1,386 33.8      2,009 69.0
Sheep Farming (Specialised)        467 11.4          626 74.6
Beef Cattle Farming (Specialised)        277 6.8      1,045 26.5
Sheep-Beef Cattle Farming        148 3.6          240 61.6
Vegetable Growing (Outdoors)           44 1.1          343 12.8
Other        214 5.2      1,094 19.6
Total agriculture     4,095 100      7,290 56.2

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. Grain-sheep or grain-beef cattle farms (1,560 farms) were the most common, accounting for 38 per cent of all farms in the Western Australia – Wheat Belt region, and 81 per cent of all grain-sheep or grain-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 14 per cent of farms in the Western Australia – Wheat Belt region had an EVAO between $50,000 and $150,000. These farms accounted for only 1 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in 2017–18. In comparison, 39 per cent of farms in the region had an EVAO of more than $1 million and accounted for an estimated 79 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in the Western Australia – Wheat Belt region in 2017–18.

Distribution of farms by estimated value of agricultural operations, Western Australia - Wheat Belt region, 2017–18
Shows share of farms and share of value of agricultural operations in the Greater Perth 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

The Wheat Belt region of Western Australia surrounds the Bunbury and Greater Perth regions in the south-west of the state. Its coastline includes a stretch on the west coast north of Perth, and a stretch on the southern coast around Albany. The coastal areas include the West Coast and South Coast bioregions.

The most valuable commercial fishing activities in the region include Western Rock Lobster production in the West Coast bioregion (6,400 tonnes; $386 million in 2017), and Abalone (98 tonnes in 2017; $4.7 million), Southern Rock Lobster (39 tonnes in 2015–16), Western Rock Lobster (50.1 tonnes in 2015–16) and Crystal, Giant and Champagne Crabs (19.3 tonnes in 2015–16) in the South Coast bioregion. Oyster Harbour at Albany is also a key area for aquaculture Oyster and Mussel farming (Gaughan et al 2019).

The Wheat Belt region includes estuaries and beaches on the west and south coast where recreational fishing for Australian Herring, Whitings (especially King George Whiting), Silver Trevally, Black Bream, Prawns and Blue Swimmer Crab is popular (Henry & Lyle 2003). Other popular species targeted in the West Coast and South Coast bioregions include Western Rock Lobster, West Australian Salmon and Breams (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 report. In this report 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 - Wheat Belt region was about 202,800 hectares, comprised of 168,310 hectares of hardwood plantations and 34,470 hectares of softwood plantations. In the Western Australia - Wheat Belt region, the main hardwood plantation species is Tasmanian blue gum with Eucalyptus spp. and sugar gum. The main softwood plantation species is maritime pine with radiata pine.

In 2016 there were about 3.7 million hectares of native forests in the Western Australia - Wheat Belt region, comprised mainly of eucalypt medium (1.9 million hectares), eucalypt mallee (1.3 million hectares) and eucalypt low (174,900 hectares). The majority of the native forests were in conservation reserves (1,218,900 hectares), while 977,400 hectares were Crown land and 857,400 hectares were on privately managed. There were 421,100 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 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.

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.

Henry, GW & Lyle JM (eds) 2003, The National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey, Final report to the Fisheries Research & Development Corporation, NSW Fisheries final report series, no. 48, FRDC project no. 99/158, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Canberra.

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: 21 October 2020
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