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About my region – Outback Northern Territory

​​​​​​​​​​​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 Outback Northern Territory region and the recent financial performance of the Nort​hern Territory beef industry.

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Regional overview

The Northern Territory – Outback region covers the whole of the Northern Territory excluding the greater Darwin region. It includes the towns of Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek. The region comprises the twelve local government areas of Alice Springs, Barkly, Belyuen, Central Desert, Coomalie, East Arnhem, Katherine, MacDonnell, Roper Gulf, Tiwi Islands, Victoria—Daly and West Arnhem. The region covers a total area of around 1,345,035 square kilometres or 99.7 per cent of the Northern Territory's total area and is home to approximately 99,800 people (ABS 2017).

Agricultural land in the Northern Territory – Outback region occupies 614,500 square kilometres, or 46 per cent of the region. Areas classified as conservation and natural environments (nature conservation, protected areas and minimal use) occupy 714,500 square kilometres, or 53 per cent of the region. The most common land use by area is grazing native vegetation, which occupies 611,200 square kilometres or 45 per cent of the Northern Territory – Outback region.

Broad land use in the Northern Territory – Outback region
Shows a map of broad land use in the Northern Territory - 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 ABARES 2017

Employment

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from the May 2018 Labour Force Survey indicate that around 51,100 people were employed in the Northern Territory – Outback region. The Northern Territory – Outback region accounts for 37 per cent of total employment in Northern Territory and 35 per cent of all people employed in the Northern Territory agriculture, forestry and fishing sector.

Health care and social assistance was the largest employment sector with 10,800 people, followed by public administration and safety with 8,600 people, and education and training with 6,100 people. Other important employment sectors in the region were retail trade; construction; and other services. The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector employed 600 people, representing 1 per cent of the region's workforce.

Employment profile, Northern Territory – Outback region, May 2018
Shows the number of people employed in the Northern Territory - Outback region 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 2018

Agricultural sector

Value of agricultural production

In 2016–17, the gross value of agricultural production in the Northern Territory – Outback region was $533 million, which was 87 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Northern Territory ($610 million).

The most important commodity in the region based on the gross value of agricultural production was cattle and calves ($463 million) accounting for 87 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the region. Melons ($33 million) and cut hay ($12 million) were the next most important commodities. These commodities together contributed 95 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the region.

Value of agricultural production, Northern Territory – Outback region, 2016–17
Shows the gross value of agricultural production in the region in millions of dollars. The figure is discussed in the previous two 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 2018

Number and type of farms

ABS data indicate that in 2015–16 there were 246 farms in the Northern Territory – Outback region with an estimated value of agricultural operations of $40,000 or more. The region contains 67 per cent of all farm businesses in Northern Territory.

Number of farms, by industry classification, Northern Territory – Outback region, 2015–16
Industry classificationNorthern Territory – Outback regionNorthern Territory
Number of farms% of RegionNumber of farmsContribution of region to state total %
Beef Cattle Farming (Specialised)18273.918797.3
Vegetable Growing (Outdoors)249.54848.9
Other Fruit and Tree Nut Growing218.68425.1
Other Crop Growing nec93.61558.1
Grape Growing31.23100.0
Other83.23125.2
Total agriculture 246 100 369 66.8

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. nec Not elsewhere classified.
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017

Farms in the table above are classified according to the activities that generate most of their value of production. Beef cattle farms (182 farms) were the most common, accounting for 74 per cent of all farms in the Northern Territory – Outback region, and 97 per cent of all beef cattle farms in the Northern Territory.

Estimated value of agricultural operations (EVAO) is a measure of the value of production from farms and a measure of their business size. Around 20 per cent of farms in the Northern Territory – Outback 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 2015–16. In comparison, 48 per cent of farms in the region had an EVAO of more than $1 million and accounted for an estimated 89 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in the Northern Territory – Outback region in 2015–16.

Distribution of farms by estimated value of agricultural operations, Northern Territory – Outback region, 2015–16
Shows share of farms and share of value of agricultural operations in the Northern Territory - Outback region. The figure is discussed in the previous paragraph.
Note: Only farms with an EVAO of $50,000 or more in 2015–16 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 2017

Farm financial performance

Estimates of financial performance are available for beef farms in the Northern Territory.

Fisheries sector

In 2015–16 the gross value of Northern Territory managed fisheries production (both aquaculture and wild-catch) was $59.4 million, an increase of 8 per cent ($4.2 million) from 2014–15. The Northern Territory contributed 2 per cent of the total value of Australian fisheries production in 2015–16. In value terms, the wild-catch sector accounted for 59 per cent ($35 million) of the territory's total production and the aquaculture sector accounted for the remaining 41 per cent ($24.5 million).

The Northern Territory's wild-catch fisheries sector provides a range of fisheries products. The highest contribution is from mackerel which account for 15 per cent of the total value of wild-catch fisheries with a value of $5.3 million. Other important wild-catch fisheries products are crabs (primarily mud crabs), which account for 9 per cent of the total value of wild-catch fisheries with a value of $3 million, gold band snapper (9 per cent; $3.2 million) and barramundi (7 per cent; $2.6 million). In 2015–16 the value of the Northern Territory's aquaculture production increased by 12 per cent from $31 million in 2014–15 to $35 million in 2015–16.

The Commonwealth managed Northern Prawn Fishery was the most valuable fishery in the Northern Territory, with a gross value of production in 2015–16 of $124 million, across the entire fishery (some of which is landed in Queensland). In 2015–16, the gross value of production for the Commonwealth Northern Prawn Fishery increased by 16 per cent because of a 17 per cent increase in price. Darwin is a major landing site for this fishery.

In 2015–16, the Northern Territory's seafood product exports were valued at around $0.16 million by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This amount will not include Northern Territory production that is exported from ports elsewhere in Australia. The main export products include live and fresh, chilled or frozen fish, and crabs, with Japan and China being the main export markets. The main non-edible fisheries product produced for the export market in the Northern Territory was pearls.

Recreational fishing is popular in the Northern Territory with an estimated 31,790 non-indigenous Northern Territory residents (5 years and over) participating in the activity in the 12 months prior to April 2009 (Henry, GW & Lyle JM 2003). In its survey of recreational fishers in Northern Territory found that most fishing effort is directed to Darwin Harbour (27 per cent), Darwin Surrounds and Bynoe/Finniss Area (28 per cent) and the Mary/Alligator Rivers (17 per cent). Most (80 per cent) fishing effort occurred in marine waters, including estuaries, and inshore and offshore waters.

It is estimated that Northern Territory residents and visitors spend nearly $51 million annually on recreational fishing, with the purchase of vessels and vehicles and their associated running costs making up the bulk of the expenditure (West et al 2012). According to the most recent survey of recreational fishing activity in the Northern Territory (West et al 2012), the main target fish species are barramundi, followed by golden snapper, small bait fish, catfish, saddletail and crimson snapper, and mullet. Mud crabs dominate the crustacean catch, followed by cherabin, the giant freshwater prawn.

The Northern Territory also has a significant indigenous customary fish sector. The 2000–01 National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey (NRIFS) aimed to better understand the level of fishing undertaken by the Indigenous fishing sector (Henry & Lyle 2003). The survey collected fisheries catch statistics from Indigenous people aged five years and older, living in coastal communities across the north of Australia, from Broome in Western Australia to Cairns in Queensland (excluding those living in the Torres Strait). The survey showed that an estimated 37,000 Indigenous people living in the north of Australia fished at least once during the survey year. This was equivalent to 92 per cent of the Indigenous population in the region.

The survey indicated that Indigenous fishers in northern Australia harvested approximately 900,000 finfish, 1 million molluscs, 660,000 prawns and yabbies, 180,000 crabs and rock lobsters and smaller numbers of other species during 2000–01. The most prominent finfish species groups were mullet, catfish, tropical snapper, bream and barramundi. The most prominent non–finfish species groups were mussels, freshwater prawn, mud crabs, prawns and oysters.

Forestry sector

In 2014–15, the most recent year for which regional data are available, the total plantation area in the Outback region of the Northern Territory was 44,200 hectares, comprised of 43,000 hectares of hardwood plantations and 1,200 hectares of softwood plantations. The main hardwood species planted are mangium (Acacia mangium) and African mahogany (Khaya senegalensis).

In 2011, there were 15.0 million hectares of native forests in the Outback region, comprised mainly of Eucalypt medium woodland (5.8 million hectares), Eucalypt medium open (5.0 million hectares), Acacia (975,500 hectares), Melaleuca (891,500 hectares), Eucalypt low woodland (855,300 hectares), Eucalypt low open (472,700 hectares), Mangrove (305,600 hectares) and Rainforest (251,000 hectares) forest types. There were 9.6 million hectares of native forests privately owned and 5.2 million hectares were leased forests (refer to figure below). There are no major timber processing industries in the Outback region of the Northern Territory.

In 2015–16, the total plantation area in the Northern Territory was 47,600 hectares, comprised of 45,700 hectares of hardwood plantations and 1,900 hectares of softwood plantations.

From 2015–16 log harvest volumes and values for the Northern Territory are included in the Western Australian state figures.

Sales and service income in the Northern Territory forest and wood product industry was not reported in 2015–16.

In 2016, the Northern Territory forestry sector employed 282 people (0.3 per cent of the total employed workforce in the Northern Territory) compared with 243 (0.2 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.

Area of native forest, by tenure, Northern Territory – Outback region
Shows the area of native forest, by tenure in the region in thousand hectares. This figure is discussed in the above paragraph.
Source: ABARES Australia's State of the Forests Report 2013

References

ABS 2017, Population by Age and Sex, Regions of Australia, 2016, cat. no. 3235.0 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, accessed 19 September 2017.

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.

West, LD, Lyle, JM, Matthews, SR, Stark, KE & Steffe, AS 2012, Survey of Recreational Fishing in the Northern Territory, 2009–10, Fishery report no. 109, Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries, December, Darwin.

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Last reviewed:
08 Nov 2018