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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, dairy and vegetable 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 2017


Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from the May 2108 Labour Force Survey indicate that around 115,200 people were employed in the Cairns region. The region accounts for 5 per cent of total employment in Queensland and 9 per cent of all people employed in the Queensland agriculture, forestry and fishing sector.

Health care and social assistance was the largest employment sector with 18,100 people, followed by retail trade with 12,300 people, and accommodation and food services with 9,900 people. Other important employment sectors in the region were public administration and safety; education and training; and construction . The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector employed 5,700 people, representing 5 per cent of the region's workforce.

Employment profile, Cairns region, May 2018
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 2018

Agricultural sector

Value of agricultural production

In 2016–17, the gross value of agricultural production in the Cairns region was $1.1 billion, which was 8 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Queensland ($14 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 ($525 million), followed by sugarcane ($326 million) and cattle and calves ($66 million). These commodities together contributed 81 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the region. In 2016–17 the Cairns region accounted for 100 per cent of the total value of Queensland's bananas production.

Value of agricultural production, Cairns region, 2016–17
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 2018

Number and type of farms

ABS data indicate that in 2015–16 there were 1,350 farms in the Cairns region with an estimated value of agricultural operations of $40,000 or more. The region contains 8 per cent of all farm businesses in Queensland.

Number of farms, by industry classification, Cairns region, 2015–16
Industry classificationCairns region​Queensland
Number of farms% of RegionNumber of farmsContribution of region to state total %
Sugar Cane Growing57842.82,83120.4
Other Fruit and Tree Nut Growing26519.686730.5
Beef Cattle Farming (Specialised)26219.48,4663.1
Dairy Cattle Farming594.449811.8
Vegetable Growing (Outdoors)534.06797.9
Citrus Fruit Growing292.116817.1
Nursery Production (Under Cover)151.111812.5
Total agriculture 1,350 100 17,929 7.5

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 2017

Farms in the table above are classified according to the activities that generate most of their value of production. Sugar cane farms (578 farms) were the most common, accounting for 43 per cent of all farms in the Cairns region, and 20 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 29 per cent of farms in the Cairns region had an EVAO between $50,000 and $150,000. These farms accounted for only 4 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in 2015–16. In comparison, 14 per cent of farms in the region had an EVAO of more than $1 million and accounted for an estimated 57 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in the Cairns region in 2015–16.

Distribution of farms by estimated value of agricultural operations, Cairns region, 2015–16
Shows share of farms and share of value of agricultural operations in the Cairns 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 all broadacre, diary and vegetable 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 3,717 tonnes of aquaculture production in 2016–17  utilising 329 hectares of ponds. The aquaculture industry in the area employed approximately 177.4  persons in 2016–17  (Lobegeiger 2018). 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 2015–16 the total gross value of Queensland's fisheries production was $291.1 million, an decrease of 1 per cent ($2.1 million) from 2014-15. Queensland contributed 10 per cent of the total value of Australian fisheries production in 2015–16. In value terms, the wild-catch sector accounted for 60 per cent ($175.9 million) of the state's total production and the aquaculture sector accounted for the remaining 40 per cent ($118.3 million).

Queensland's wild-catch fisheries sector provides a range of fisheries products. The highest contribution being from prawns, which account for 36 per cent of the total value of wild-catch fisheries production with a value of $62.7 million, followed by coral trout (15 per cent; $26.8 million) and crabs (14 per cent; $24.2 million). Over the last decade the real value of Queensland's wild-caught fisheries products has reduced by 37 per cent. Prawns, snapper and shark, showed the largest decline in the value of production over the past decade, reducing by 35 per cent, 77  per  cent and 66 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 4 per cent in 2015–16  to $118.3 million. Prawn and barramundi farming account for the largest share of production by value, with prawns accounting for 68 per cent, and $80.5 million of production, followed by barramundi (25 per cent; $29.3 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.

In 2015–16, Queensland's fisheries product exports were valued at $199.6 million. The main export products include live and fresh, chilled or frozen fish, prawns and rock lobster. Hong Kong, Japan and the United States are the major destinations for Queensland fisheries exports, accounting for 42 per cent, 17 per cent and 14 per cent of the total value of exports in 2015–16, respectively. Other major export destinations include China (7 per cent) and Vietnam (4 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 (QDAF 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 2014–15, the most recent year for which regional data are available, the total plantation area in the Cairns region was 10,000 hectares, comprised of 1,300 hectares of hardwood plantations and 8,700 hectares of softwood plantations. The main softwood species planted are Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea) and hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii).

In 2011, there were 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. There were 686,100 hectares of native forests in nature conservation reserves, 585,000 hectares were in leased forests, 243,700 hectares were privately owned and 112,800 hectares were in multiple-use public forest available for timber production. Major timber processing industries are sawmills located at Ravenshoe and Mareeba.

In 2015–16, the total plantation area in Queensland was 230,400 hectares, comprised of 34,800 hectares of hardwood plantations, 195,500 hectares of softwood plantations and 100 hectares of other plantations.

In 2015–16, the volume of native hardwood logs harvested in Queensland was 285,000 cubic metres valued at $43 million. The volume of plantation hardwood logs harvested was 14,000 cubic metres valued at $1 million. The volume of softwood harvested, including native cypress pines, was 2.6 million cubic metres valued at $205 million.

The sales and service income generated from the sale of wood products in Queensland was estimated at $2.6 billion in 2015–16. Sales and service income for paper and paper products is not available for 2015−16.

In 2016, Queensland's forestry sector employed 9,518 workers (0.4 per cent of the total employed workforce) compared with 12,840 (0.6 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.

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.

Lobegeiger, R, 2018, Aquaculture production summary for Queensland 2016–17, Queensland Government.

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:
11 Jul 2018