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 2016

Employment

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from the August 2017 Labour Force Survey indicate that around 64,000 people were employed in the Wheat Belt region. The region accounts for 5 per cent of total employment in Western Australia and 41 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 14,800 people, representing 23 per cent of the region's workforce. Health care and social assistance was the second largest employment sector with 6,800 people, followed by construction with 6,700 people. Other important employment sectors in the region were retail trade, accommodation and food services, and public administration and safety.

Employment profile, Western Australia - Wheat Belt region, August 2017
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 2017

Agricultural sector

Value of agricultural production

In 2015–16, the gross value of agricultural production in the Western Australia – Wheat Belt region was $4.6 billion, which was 56 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Western Australia ($8.2 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 ($1.6 billion), followed by barley ($604 million) and wool ($535 million). These commodities together contributed 60 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the region.

Value of agricultural production, Western Australian - Wheat Belt 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 5,513 farms in the Western Australia – Wheat Belt region with an estimated value of agricultural operations of $5,000 or more. The region contains 55 per cent of all farm businesses in Western Australia.

Number of farms, by industry classification, Western Australia - Wheat Belt region, 2014–15

Industry classification

Western Australia – Wheat Belt region

Western Australia

Number of farms

% of Region

Number of farms

Contribution of region
to state total
%

Other Grain Growing

2,441

44.3

3,161

77.2

Grain-Sheep or Grain-Beef Cattle Farming

812

14.7

1,007

80.7

Beef Cattle Farming (Specialised)

788

14.3

2,172

36.3

Sheep Farming (Specialised)

758

13.8

1,145

66.2

Sheep-Beef Cattle Farming

160

2.9

285

56.1

Grape Growing

109

2.0

442

24.7

Other Crop Growing nec

65

1.2

136

48.1

Other

379

6.9

1,727

22.0

Total agriculture

5,513

100

10,075

54.7

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. Grain growing farms (2,441 farms) were the most common, accounting for 44 per cent of all farms in the Western Australia – Wheat Belt region, and 77 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 25 per cent of farms in the Western Australia – Wheat Belt region had an EVAO of less than $50,000. These farms accounted for only 1 per cent of the total value of agricultural operations in 2014–15. In comparison, 24 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 2014–15.

Distribution of farms by estimated value of agricultural operations, Western Australia - Wheat Belt region, 2014–15
Shows share of farms and share of value of agricultural operations in the Greater Perth 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, 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 (Fletcher & Santoro 2012). The most valuable capture fishing activities include western rocklobster 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 and Lyle 2003).

In 2014–15, the gross value of Western Australian fisheries production (both aquaculture and wild–catch) was $569.6 million, an increase of 16 per cent ($79.4 million) from 2013–14. Western Australia accounted for 21 per cent of the total value of Australian fisheries production in 2014–15. In value terms, the wild–catch sector accounted for around 86 per cent ($488.4 million) of the state's total production and the aquaculture sector accounted for the remaining 14 per cent ($81.2 million).

Western Australia's wild–catch sector is dominated by the production of western rocklobster, which accounted for around 79 per cent of the state's total wild–catch production in 2014–15. Other major wild–catch seafood products include prawns (8 per cent) and abalone (2 per cent). Over the past decade the real value of Western Australian wild–caught fisheries is estimated to have declined by 10 per cent. The decline in value was mostly driven by a 50 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 rocklobster production is exported, mostly to Hong Kong. Exchange rate movements have a significant effect on the value of rocklobster 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 52 per cent to $81.2 million in 2014–15. Most of the decline can be attributed to a reduction in the value of pearl oyster production.

The value of aquaculture production in 2014–15 increased by 11 per cent ($7.9 million) to $81.2 million. This increase was mainly the result of a $7.1 million rise (12 per cent) in the value of pearl production. Pearls are the most valuable aquaculture product in the state and contributed around 84 per cent ($67.9 million) of aquaculture production value in 2014–15. The edible seafood component of Western Australia's aquaculture sector accounted for 16 per cent ($12.8 million) of total aquaculture production value in 2014–15.

In 2014–15, Western Australia's seafood product exports were valued at $486 million, representing a 24 per cent increase in value compared with 2013–14. The main export seafood product is western rocklobster, which accounted for 91 per cent of the state's exports of seafood in 2014–15. Other major export seafood products include prawns (3 per cent) and abalone (3 per cent).

Vietnam and Hong Kong are the major destination for Western Australian seafood exports, accounting for around 75 per cent and 13 per cent of the total value of exports in 2014–15 respectively. Other major export destinations include Japan (4 per cent) and the United States (3 per cent).

Recreational fishing is a popular activity in Western Australia, with an estimated 643 000 people fishing recreationally in the state (Government of Western Australia 2013). Most of the activity is in Perth and the surrounding area. Recreational fishing makes a significant contribution to the state economy and attracts thousands of visitors to regional Western Australia each year (Government of Western Australia 2013). There is also a large charter boat sector providing recreational fishing experiences to local, interstate and international tourists.

Forestry sector

In 2010–11, the most recent year for which regional data are available, the total plantation area in the Wheat Belt region was approximately 226,500 hectares, comprised of approximately 183,000 hectares of hardwood plantations and 35,000 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 (P.radiata).

In 2011, there were approximately 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. Approximately 1.2 million hectares of native forests are in nature conservation reserves, 739,900 hectares are privately owned, 479,700 hectares are leasehold forest and 420,300 hectares are multiple-use public forest available for timber production. Major export and timber processing industries are located in Albany, Mount Barker and Dwellingup.

In 2013–14, the total plantation area in Western Australia was approximately 391,500 hectares, comprised of approximately 287,300 hectares of hardwood plantations and 98 hectares of softwood plantations and 5,700 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 2014–15, the volume of native hardwood logs harvested was 331,000 cubic metres valued at $26 million. The volume of plantation hardwood logs harvested was 3.4 million cubic metres valued at $239 million. The volume of softwood harvested was 969,000 cubic metres valued at $61 million.

Sales and service income of the Western Australia wood product industry was estimated at $949 million in 2013–14.
In 2011, Western Australia's forestry sector employed 5,580 workers (0.5 per cent of the total employed workforce in Western Australia) compared with 5,972 (0.5 per cent) in 2006. The number of people employed includes forestry support services and timber wholesaling.

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.

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.

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.

WA Government 2013, Recreational fishing guide 2013: simpler rules for better fishing (PDF 2.5 MB), Department of Fisheries, Perth.

Last reviewed:
17 Oct 2017