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About my region – Western Australia – Outback

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

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Regional overview

The Western Australia – Outback region incorporates all of Western Australia, excluding the south-west corner of the state. The region comprises 40 local government areas, and includes the regional towns of Broome, Carnarvon, Esperance, Exmouth, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie, Kununurra and Port Hedland. The region covers a total area of around 2,298,053 square kilometres or 91 per cent of Western Australia's total area and is home to approximately 219, 300 people (ABS 2017).

Agricultural land in the Western Australia – Outback region occupies 931,326 square kilometres, or 41 per cent of the region. Areas classified as conservation and natural environments (nature conservation, protected areas and minimal use) occupy 1,324,120 square kilometres, or 58 per cent of the region. The most common land use by area is grazing native vegetation, which occupies 888,598 square kilometres or 39 per cent of the Western Australia – Outback region.

Broad land use in the Western Australia - Outback region
Shows a map of broad land use in the Western Australia - 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 118,100 people were employed in the Western Australia – Outback region. The region accounts for 9 per cent of total employment in Western Australia and 6 per cent of all people employed in the Western Australian agriculture, forestry and fishing sector.

Mining was the largest employment sector with 21,100 people, followed by construction and retail trade with 11,400 people in each sector. Other important employment sectors in the region were public administration and safety; accommodation and food services; and education and training. The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector employed 2,300 people, representing 2 per cent of the region's workforce.

Employment profile, Western Australia - Outback region, May 2018
Shows the number of people employed in the Western Australia - 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 Western Australia – Outback region was $2.7 billion, which was 31 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Western Australia ($9 billion).

The Western Australia – Outback region has a diverse agricultural sector. The most important commodities in the region based on the gross value of agricultural production were wheat ($969 million), followed by cattle and calves ($558 million) and canola ($434 million). These commodities together contributed 71 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the region.

Value of agricultural production, Western Australia - 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 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 1,528 farms in the Western Australia – Outback region with an estimated value of agricultural operations of $40,000 or more. The region contains 19 per cent of all farm businesses in Western Australia.

Number of farms, by industry classification, Western Australia - Outback region, 2015–16

Industry classification

Western Australia - Outback region

Western Australia

Number of farms

% of Region

Number of farms

Contribution of region
to state total
%

Other Grain Growing

662

43.3

2,302

28.7

Beef Cattle Farming (Specialised)

259

17.0

1,180

22.0

Grain-Sheep or Grain-Beef Cattle Farming

171

11.2

1,538

11.1

Sheep Farming (Specialised)

164

10.7

1,149

14.2

Vegetable Growing (Outdoors)

100

6.5

318

31.4

Other Fruit and Tree Nut Growing

53

3.5

137

38.9

Sheep-Beef Cattle Farming

51

3.3

253

20.2

Other

68

4.5

1,383

4.9

Total agriculture

1,528

100

8,259

18.5

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. Other grain growing farms (662 farms) were the most common, accounting for43 per cent of all farms in the Western Australia – Outback region, and 29 per cent of all 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 14 per cent of farms in the Western Australia – Outback region had an EVAO between $50,000 and $150,000. These farms accounted for around 1 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in 2015–16. In comparison, 42 per cent of farms in the region had an EVAO of more than $1 million and accounted for an estimated 82 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in the Western Australia – Outback region in 2015–16.

Distribution of farms by estimated value of agricultural operations, Western Australia - Outback region, 2015–16
Shows share of farms and share of value of agricultural operations in the Western Australia - 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 all broadacre, dairy, and vegetable farms in Western Australia.

Fisheries sector

Western Australia – Outback region covers most of Western Australia, including coastal areas in the south, west and north-west regions of Western Australia. It covers fisheries in all four bioregions, including all of the North Coast and Gascoyne Coast bioregions, around two–thirds of the South Coast bioregion, and a portion of the West Coast bioregion (Fletcher & Santoro 2012). The most valuable fishing activities include tropical finfish in the North Coast bioregion, prawns and scallops in the Gascoyne bioregion, abalone and mussels in the South Coast bioregion and western rocklobster and scallops in the West Coast bioregion. The primary aquaculture activities in the North Coast, Gascoyne Coast and West Coast bioregions are several varieties of pearls and pearl oysters, and barramundi, while aquaculture production in the South Coast bioregion primarily consists of mussels and oysters. Recreational fishing is also a popular activity in the region.

On the south coast Australian herring, silver trevally, whiting and Bight redfish are commonly caught by recreational fishers. In the west coast bioregion western rocklobster is an important target of recreational fishers using lobster pots or divers capturing lobsters by hand. Anglers fishing from the shore catch mullet, tailor, Australian herring and whiting. Offshore boat fishers target snapper, baldchin groper, West Australian dhufish and Spanish mackerel. In the North Coast Bioregion (Pilbara and Kimberley), barramundi, mullet, threadfin salmon, tropical snapper, mud crab and blue swimmer crab are the main species targeted. The North Coast population has the highest participation rates for recreational fishing in Western Australia. In inland areas of the Outback Region, freshwater crustaceans such as yabby, marron and freshwater prawn are important to recreational fishers.

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).

Forestry sector

In 2014–15, the most recent year for which regional data are available, the plantation area in the Outback region of Western Australia was 52,200 hectares, comprised of 46,400 hectares of hardwood plantations and 5,600 hectares of softwood 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 2012, there were an estimated 15,000–23,000 hectares of commercial sandalwood plantations in Australia, mostly in the Outback region of Western Australia.

In 2011, there were 13.3 million hectares of native forests in the Outback region, comprised mainly of Eucalypt medium woodland (4.6 million hectares), Eucalypt mallee woodland (4.4 million hectares), Acacia (3.1 million hectares), Eucalypt low woodland (740,600 hectares), Mangrove (105,500 hectares) and Casuarina (88,200 hectares) forest types. There were 5.1 million hectares of the native forests leased and 2.7 million hectares in nature conservation reserves. The main native forest industry is in the south west of the region. There are no timber processing industries in the Outback region.

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 355,500 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.

Areas of native forest, by tenure, Western Australia Outback region
Shows the areas of native forest, by tenure in the Western Australia - Outback region. The figure is discussed in the previous 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.

Department of Fisheries 2016, Annual Report to Parliament 2015/16, Department of Fisheries, Western Australia. 225 pp.
Fletcher, W & Santoro, K (eds) 2012, Status reports of the fisheries and aquatic resources of Western Australia 2011–12: State of the fisheries. Fish for the future (PDF 9.0 MB), Department of Fisheries, Western Australia.

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.
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Last reviewed:
08 Nov 2018