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About my region – Cairns Queensland

​​​​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, sheep and beef sectors in the Cairns region and the recent Queensland financial performance of the broadacre, beef, grains, dairy, vegetable, and sugarcane industries.

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​​​Regional overview

The Cairns region is located in the north of Queensland and comprises the three local government areas of Cairns, Cassowary Coast and Yarrabah, part of the Tablelands local government area, and the regional centres of Cairns and Port Douglas. The region covers a total area of around 21,345 square kilometres or 1.23 per cent of Queensland's total area and is home to approximately 247,800 people (ABS 2017).

Agricultural land in the Cairns region occupies 9,957 square kilometres, or 47 per cent of the region. Areas classified as conservation and natural environments (nature conservation, protected areas and minimal use) occupy 10,078 square kilometres, or 47 per cent of the region. The most common land use by area is nature conservation, which occupies 8,809 square kilometres or 41 per cent of the Cairns region.

Broad land use in the Cairns region
Shows a map of broad land use in the Cairns 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 2016


Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from the August 2017 Labour Force Survey indicate that around 117,100 people were employed in the Cairns region. The region accounts for 5 per cent of total employment in Queensland and 7 per cent of all people employed in the Queensland agriculture, forestry and fishing sector.

Retail trade was the largest employment sector with 14,300 people, followed by health care and social assistance with 13,500 people, and public administration and safety with 12,100 people. Other important employment sectors in the region were education and training, construction, and accommodation and food services. The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector employed 4,100 people, representing 3 per cent of the region's workforce.

Employment profile, Cairns region, August 2017
Shows the number of people employed in the Cairns 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 2017

Agricultural sector

Value of agricultural production

In 2015–16, the gross value of agricultural production in the Cairns region was $910 million, which was 7 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Queensland ($13.2 billion).

The Cairns region has a diverse agricultural sector. The most important commodities in the region based on the gross value of agricultural production were bananas ($397 million), followed by sugarcane ($244 million) and cattle and calves ($81 million). These commodities together contributed 79 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the region. In 2015–16 the Cairns region accounted for 99 per cent  of the total value of Queensland's bananas production.

Value of agricultural production, Cairns region, 2015–16
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 2017

Number and type of farms

ABS data indicate that in 2014–15 there were 1,598 farms in the Cairns region with an estimated value of agricultural operations of $5,000 or more. The region contains 7 per cent of all farm businesses in Queensland.

Number of farms, by industry classification, Cairns region, 2014–15
Industry classificationCairns region​Queensland
Number of farms% of RegionNumber of farmsContribution of region to state total %

Sugar Cane Growing





Beef Cattle Farming (Specialised)





Other Fruit and Tree Nut Growing





Vegetable Growing (Outdoors)





Dairy Cattle Farming





Citrus Fruit Growing





Horse Farming










Total agriculture





Note: Estimated value of agricultural operations $5,000 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 2016

Farms in the table above are classified according to the activities that generate most of their value of production. Sugarcane farms (549 farms) were the most common, accounting for 34 per cent of all farms in the Cairns region, and 18 per cent of all sugarcane farms in Queensland.

Estimated value of agricultural operations (EVAO) is a measure of the value of production from farms and a measure of their business size. Around 34 per cent of farms in the Cairns region had an EVAO of less than $50,000. These farms accounted for only 2 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in 2014–15. In comparison, 17 per cent of farms in the region had an EVAO of more than $500,000 and accounted for an estimated 73 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in the Cairns region in 2014–15.

Distribution of farms by estimated value of agricultural operations, Cairns region, 2014–15
Shows share of farms and share of value of agricultural operations in the Cairns region. The figure is discussed in the previous paragraph.
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016

Farm financial performance

Estimates of financial performance are available for all broadacre, beef, sheep, grains, diary, vegetable, and sugarcane farms in Queensland.

Fisheries sector

Cairns is a key commercial fishing port in Queensland. It is the fourth largest home port for the Commonwealth Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery and a home port for the Commonwealth Northern Prawn fishery. The diverse range of wild-caught species in this region include: prawns, barramundi, coral trout, Spanish mackerel, tuna and lobster. The East Coast Trawl Fishery is the largest of Queensland's commercial fisheries operating in the region targeting mostly prawns, but also harvests bugs, squid, and other species.

The Far North area produced 3,337.3 tonnes of aquaculture production in 2014–15 utilising 397 hectares of ponds. The aquaculture industry in the area employed approximately 123.7 persons in 2014–15 (Heidenreich 2015). Aquaculture species produced in the Far North area include barramundi, jade perch, prawns and pearls.

Recreational fishing is a popular activity in far north Queensland. The proportion of residents in this area that fish at least once each year is 23 per cent, significantly higher than the Queensland average of 17 per cent (Taylor et al. 2012). Fishers from the Cairns region fish mostly in the local coastal waters and adjacent reefs within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park from boats, or in the central coast catchment to the south from the shore and from boats. Common species caught by fishers are coral trout, pikey bream, tropical snapper, barramundi, trumpeter whiting, mangrove jack, Spanish mackerel and mud crab. The number of barramundi caught by fishers in the far north is about twice that of any other fish species although it is not the most common fish harvested, due to the high proportion of released fish. This region is a popular destination for fishers travelling from other regions of Queensland, elsewhere in Australia and overseas.

In 2014–15 the total gross value of Queensland's fisheries production was $291.1 million, an increase of 4 per cent ($10.8 million) from 2013-14. Queensland contributed 11 per cent of the total value of Australian fisheries production in 2014–15. In value terms, the wild-catch sector accounted for 61 per cent ($177.1 million) of the state's total production and the aquaculture sector accounted for the remaining 39 per cent ($114.1 million).

Queensland's wild-catch fisheries sector provides a range of fisheries products. The highest contribution being from prawns, which account for 35 per cent of the total value of wild-catch fisheries production with a value of $62.8 million, followed by crabs (17 per cent; $29.5 million) and coral trout (14 per cent; $24.6 million). Over the last decade the real value of Queensland's wild-caught fisheries products has reduced by 32 per cent. Prawns and shark, showed the largest decline in the value of production over the past decade, reducing by 41 per cent and 86 per cent respectively. Competition from imported prawns in the domestic market has also placed significant downward pressure on prices in recent years.

The value of Queensland's aquaculture production has increased by 28 per cent in 2014–15 to $114.1 million. Prawn and barramundi farming account for the largest share of production by value, with prawns accounting for 71 per cent, and $81.2 million of production, followed by barramundi (24 per cent; $27.5 million).

Commonwealth fisheries active in the waters off the east coast of Queensland include the Commonwealth Eastern Tuna and Billfish fishery (mainly supplying export markets with tuna) and the Coral Sea Fishery. The final proposed Commonwealth Coral Sea Marine Reserves network released on 14 June 2012 is estimated to displace $4.0 million of gross value of production from these fisheries when the zoning comes into effect.

In 2014–15, Queensland's fisheries product exports were valued at $160 million. The main export products include live and fresh, chilled or frozen fish, prawns and rocklobster. Hong Kong, Japan and the United States are the major destinations for Queensland fisheries exports, accounting for 48 per cent, 13 per cent and 9 per cent of the total value of exports in 2013–14, respectively. Other major export destinations include Vietnam (9 per cent), Malaysia (3 per cent) and Taiwan (3 per cent).

Recreational fishing is popular in Queensland. The results of the 2013–14 state wide and regional recreational fishing survey report that recreational fishing continues to be a popular activity; however the participation rate has dropped from 17 per cent in 2010 to 15 per cent in 2013. In the 12 months prior to November 2013 approximately 700,000 Queenslanders went recreational fishing (QDAFF 2015). Total expenditure in the sector is estimated to be between $350 million and $420 million in 2008–09 (DEEDI 2009). The tropical waters of Queensland are also a key area for tourism, attracting anglers from around the world and Australia. Popular target species include crabs, prawns and a range of finfish species including cods and groupers, coral trout, redthroat emperor, rosy snapper, and mackerel. For freshwater activity some key species caught include barramundi, eels, silver perch, and yabby and blueclaw crayfish.

Forestry sector

In 2010–11, the most recent year for which regional data are available, the total plantation area in the Cairns region was approximately 8,500 hectares, including approximately 400 hectares of hardwood plantations and 8,100 hectares of softwood plantations. The main softwood species planted are Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea) and hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii).

In 2011, there were approximately 1.7 million hectares of native forests in the Cairns region, mainly comprising Rainforest (599,700 hectares), Eucalypt medium woodland (463,600 hectares) and Eucalypt medium open (369,100 hectares) forest types. Approximately 686,100 hectares of the native forests are in nature conservation reserves, 585,000 hectares are leased forests, 243,700 hectares are privately owned and 112,800 hectares are multiple-use public forest available for timber production. Major timber processing industries are sawmills located at Ravenshoe and Mareeba.

In 2013–14, the total plantation area in Queensland was approximately 233,500 hectares, comprising approximately 41,600 hectares of hardwood plantations, 189,400 hectares of softwood plantations and 2,500 hectares of other plantations. The main hardwood species planted are Dunn's white gum (Eucalyptus dunnii), lemon–scented gum (Corymbia citriodora), shining gum (Eucalyptus nitens) and teak (Tectona grandis). The main softwood species planted are Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea), hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii), slash pine (Pinus elliottii) and pine hybrids.

In 2014–15, the volume of native hardwood logs harvested was 259,000 cubic metres valued at $38 million. The volume of plantation hardwood logs harvested was 41,000 cubic metres valued at $2 million. The volume of softwood harvested, including native cypress pines, was 1.8 million cubic metres valued at $141 million.

Queensland's forest and wood product industry generated approximately $3 billion of sales and service income in 2013–14. The income was generated from the sale of wood products, such as structural wood and woodchips, estimated at approximately $2 billion. The remaining $1 billion was generated from the sale of paper and paper products.

In 2011, Queensland's forestry sector employed 12,845 workers (0.6 per cent of the total employed workforce) compared with 16,411 (0.9 per cent) in 2006. The number of people employed includes forestry support services and timber wholesaling.

Areas of native forest, by tenure, Cairns region
Shows the areas of native forest, by tenure in the Cairns region. The figure is discussed in the previous paragraph.

Source: ABARES Australia's State of the Forests Report 2013


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

DEEDI 2009, Prospects for Queensland's primary industries 2009–10, Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, Brisbane, Queensland.

Heidenreich M 2015, Ross Lobegeiger report to farmers: Aquaculture production summary for Queensland 2014–15 (pdf 883.06kb), Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane, Queensland.

QDAF 2015, Statewide recreational Fishing Surveys, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane, Queensland.

Taylor, S, Webley, J & McInnes, K 2012, 2010 Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Brisbane, Queensland.

Last reviewed:
17 Oct 2017