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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.

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Regional overview

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 197,303 square kilometres or 7.8 per cent of Western Australia's total area and is home to approximately 137,400 people (ABS 2017).

Agricultural land in the Wheat Belt region occupies 124,217 square kilometres, or 63 per cent of the region. Areas classified as conservation and natural environments (nature conservation, protected areas and minimal use) occupy 61,996 square kilometres, or 31 per cent of the region. The most common land use by area is dryland cropping, which occupies 60,643 square kilometres or 31 per cent of the Wheat Belt region.

Broad land use in the Western Australia - Wheat Belt region
Shows a map of broad land use in the Wheat Belt 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 65,300 people were employed in the Wheat Belt region. The region accounts for 5 per cent of total employment in Western Australia and 40 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 16,400 people, representing 25 per cent of the region's workforce. Construction was the second largest employment sector with 8,000 people, followed by health care and social assistance with 7,300 people. Other important employment sectors in the region were retail trade; education and training; and accommodation and food services.

Employment profile, Western Australia - Wheat Belt region, May 2018
Shows the number of people employed in the Wheat Belt 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 – Wheat Belt region was $5 billion, which was 56 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Western Australia ($9 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 ($1.5 billion), followed by canola ($739 million) and wool ($659 million). These commodities together contributed 57 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the region.

Value of agricultural production, Western Australian - Wheat Belt 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 4,650 farms in the Western Australia – Wheat Belt region with an estimated value of agricultural operations of $40,000 or more. The region contains 56 per cent of all farm businesses in Western Australia.

Number of farms, by industry classification, Western Australia - Wheat Belt region, 2015–16
Industry classificationWestern Australia – Wheat Belt regionWestern Australia
Number of farms% of RegionNumber of farmsContribution of region
to state total
%
Other Grain Growing 1,624 34.9 2,302 70.5
Grain-Sheep or Grain-Beef Cattle Farming 1,314 28.3 1,538 85.5
Sheep Farming (Specialised) 820 17.6 1,149 71.4
Beef Cattle Farming (Specialised) 381 8.2 1,180 32.3
Sheep-Beef Cattle Farming 137 2.9 253 54.1
Other Crop Growing nec50 1.1 82 61.4
Other325 7.0 1,756 18.5
Total agriculture 4,650 100 8,259 56.3

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. Other grain growing farms (1,624 farms) were the most common, accounting for 35 per cent of all farms in the Western Australia – Wheat Belt region, and 71 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 18 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 2 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in 2015–16. In comparison, 32 per cent of farms in the region had an EVAO of more than $1 million and accounted for an estimated 74 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in the Western Australia – Wheat Belt region in 2015–16.

Distribution of farms by estimated value of agricultural operations, Western Australia - Wheat Belt region, 2015–16
Shows share of farms and share of value of agricultural operations in the Greater Perth 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

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).

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Forestry sector

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 2011, there were 3.6 million hectares of native forests in the Wheat Belt region, comprised mainly of Eucalypt medium woodland (1.3 million hectares), Eucalypt mallee woodland (1.2 million hectares), Eucalypt medium open (516,800 hectares), Eucalypt low open (108,200 hectares), Eucalypt low woodland (98,200 hectares) and Acacia (86,600) forest types. There were 1.2 million hectares of native forests in nature conservation reserves, 739,900 hectares were privately owned, 479,700 hectares were leasehold forests and 420,300 hectares were multiple-use public forests available for timber production. 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.

Areas of native forest, by tenure, Western Australia - Wheat Belt region
Shows the areas of native forest, by tenure in the Wheat Belt 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.

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 andRegional 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.

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:
02 Aug 2018