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.
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).
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from the August 2019 Labour Force Survey indicate that around 73,800 people were employed in the Wheat Belt region. The region accounts for 5 per cent of total employment in Western Australia and 44 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 16,600 people, representing 22 per cent of the region's workforce. Education and training was the second largest employment sector with 7,000 people, followed by retail trade with 6,900 people. Other important employment sectors in the region were construction; manufacturing ; and accommodation and food services .
Value of agricultural production
In 2017–18, the gross value of agricultural production in the Western Australia – Wheat Belt region was $5.1 billion, which was 59 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Western Australia ($8.6 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 ($1.4 billion), followed by barley ($773 million) and wool ($772 million). These commodities together contributed 59 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the region.
Number and type of farms
ABS data indicate that in 2016–17 there were 4,841 farms in the Western Australia – Wheat Belt region with an estimated value of agricultural operations of $40,000 or more. The region contains 55 per cent of all farm businesses in Western Australia.
|Industry classification||Western Australia – Wheat Belt region||Western Australia|
|Number of farms||% of Region||Number of farms||Contribution of region|
to state total
|Other Grain Growing||1,796||37.1||2,638||68.1|
|Grain-Sheep or Grain-Beef Cattle Farming||1,437||29.7||1,692||84.9|
|Sheep Farming (Specialised)||692||14.3||989||69.9|
|Beef Cattle Farming (Specialised)||407||8.4||1,356||30.0|
|Sheep-Beef Cattle Farming||122||2.5||174||70.0|
|Vegetable Growing (Outdoors)||48||1.0||296||16.2|
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
Farms in the table above are classified according to the activities that generate most of their value of production. Other grain growing farms (1,796 farms) were the most common, accounting for 37 per cent of all farms in the Western Australia – Wheat Belt region, and 68 per cent of all 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 17 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 2016–17. In comparison, 38 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 2016–17.
Farm financial performance
Estimates of financial performance are available for all broadacre, dairy, and vegetable farms in Western Australia.
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 (Gaughan & Santoro 2018). The most valuable capture fishing activities include western rock lobster production in the West Coast bioregion, and abalone, southern rock lobster in the South Coast bioregion. Oyster Harbour at Albany is also a key area for aquaculture oyster and mussel farming.
The Wheat Belt region includes estuaries and beaches on the west and south coast where recreational fishing for Australian herring, whiting (especially King George whiting), silver trevally, black bream, prawns and blue swimmer crab is popular (Henry & Lyle 2003).
In 2015–16, the gross value of Western Australian fisheries production (both aquaculture and wild–catch) was $593.3 million, an increase of 4 per cent ($23.7 million) from 2014–15. Western Australia accounted for 20 per cent of the total value of Australian fisheries production in 2015–16. In value terms, the wild–catch sector accounted for around 85 per cent ($504.1 million) of the state's total production and the aquaculture sector accounted for the remaining 15 per cent ($89.2 million).
Western Australia's wild–catch sector is dominated by the production of western rock lobster, which accounted for around 78 per cent of the state's total wild–catch production in 2015–16. Other major wild–catch seafood products include prawns (9 per cent) and crabs (2 per cent). Over the past decade the real value of Western Australian wild–caught fisheries is estimated to have declined by 6 per cent. The decline in value was mostly driven by a 39 per cent decline in total production volume.
The product for which the real value of production declined most over the past decade is scallops, falling by 90 per cent to $3 million in 2014–15. This was the result of a 94 per cent reduction in the volume caught. A large proportion of rock lobster production is exported, mostly to Hong Kong. Exchange rate movements have a significant effect on the value of rock lobster exports and, in turn, production.
Prawns also account for a significant proportion of Western Australian wild–catch production, accounting for an estimated 15 per cent and 8 per cent of the total volume and value, respectively, of wild–catch production in 2014–15. The value of prawn production increased by 4 per cent to $37.3 million in 2014–15. This mostly reflects a 2 per cent increase in average unit prices.
The real value of Western Australian aquaculture has declined over the past decade by 46 per cent to $89.2 million in 2015–16. Most of the decline can be attributed to a reduction in the value of pearl oyster production.
The value of aquaculture production in 2015–16 increased by 10 per cent ($8 million) to $89.2 million. This increase was mainly the result of a $10.5 million rise (15 per cent) in the value of pearl production. Pearls are the most valuable aquaculture product in the state and contributed around 88 per cent ($78.4 million) of aquaculture production value in 2015–16. The edible seafood component of Western Australia's aquaculture sector accounted for 12 per cent ($10.8 million) of total aquaculture production value in 2015–16.
In 2015–16, Western Australia's seafood product exports were valued at $504.9 million, representing a 4 per cent increase in value compared with 2014–15. The main export seafood product is western rock lobster, which accounted for 90 per cent of the state's exports of seafood in 2015–16. Other major export seafood products include prawns (5 per cent) and abalone (3 per cent). Vietnam and Hong Kong are the major destinations for Western Australia fisheries exports, accounting for 72 per cent and 13 per cent of the total value of exports in 2015–16, respectively. Other major export destinations include Japan (5 per cent) and United States (4 per cent).
Recreational fishing is a popular activity in Western Australia, with an estimated 752,000 people fishing recreationally in the state in 2015–16 (Department of Fisheries 2016). Most of the activity is the West Coast bioregion, around Perth and the surrounding area. Most boat-based recreational fishing effort occurred in coastal nearshore (60 per cent), inshore demersal (25 per cent) and estuary habitats (11 per cent), and the remainder in pelagic (2 per cent), offshore demersal (1 per cent) and freshwater (1 per cent). 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).
In 2014–15, the most recent year for which regional data are available, the total plantation area in the Wheat Belt region was 203,900 hectares, comprised of 168,300 hectares of hardwood plantations, 34,500 hectares of softwood plantations and 1,100 hectares of other plantations. The main hardwood species planted is blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus) and the main softwood species planted are maritime pine (Pinus pinaster) and radiata pine (Pinus radiata).
In 2016, there were 3.7 million hectares of native forests in the Wheat Belt region, comprised mainly of Eucalypt medium woodland forest (1.3 million hectares) and, Eucalypt mallee woodland forest (1.3 million hectares). The majority of native forests were in nature conservation reserves (1.2 million hectares), while 977,100 hectares were on land classified as other Crown land and 857,500 hectares were privately owned. Major export and timber processing industries are located in Albany, Mount Barker and Dwellingup.
In 2015–16, the total plantation area in Western Australia was 383,400 hectares, comprised of 276,400 hectares of hardwood plantations, 98,400 hectares of softwood plantations and 8,500 hectares of other plantations.
In 2015–16, the volume of native hardwood logs harvested in Western Australia was 355,000 cubic metres valued at $28 million. The volume of plantation hardwood logs harvested was 3.7 million cubic metres valued at $262 million. The volume of softwood harvested was 912,000 cubic metres valued at $59 million. These values and volumes include Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
Total sales and service income in the Western Australia forest and wood product industry was estimated at $1.5 billion in 2015–16. The income generated from the sale of wood products was $1.1 billion and the income generated from the sale of paper and paper products was $343 million.
In 2016, Western Australia's forestry sector employed 3,995 workers (0.3 per cent of the total employed workforce in Western Australia) compared with 5,581 (0.5 per cent) in 2011. The number of people employed includes the following categories: forestry, logging, support services, timber wholesaling; and wood, 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, 2017, cat. no. 3235.0 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, accessed 10 January 2019.
ABS 2019a Labour Force, Australia, Detailed, Quarterly, August 2019, cat. no. 6291.0 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, accessed 15 October 2019.
ABS 2019b Value of Agricultural Commodities Produced, Australia, 2017-18, cat. no. 7503.0 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, accessed 15 May 2019.
Department of Fisheries 2016, Annual Report to Parliament 2015/16, Department of Fisheries, Western Australia. 225 pp.
Gaughan, D.J. & Santoro, K. (eds). 2018. Status Reports of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of Western Australia 2016/17: The State of the Fisheries. Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, 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.
Montreal Process Implementation Group for Australia and National Forest Inventory Steering Committee, 2018, Australia’s State of the Forests Report 2018, ABARES, Canberra, December. CC BY 4.0.
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.