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.
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 129,400 people (ABS 2011).
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.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from the February 2017 Labour Force Survey indicate that around 59,200 people were employed in the Wheat Belt region. The region accounts for 4 per cent of total employment in Western Australia and 37 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 12,300 people, representing 21 per cent of the region's workforce. Health care and social assistance was the second largest employment sector with 7,100 people, followed by accommodation and food services with 6,000 people. Other important employment sectors in the region were construction, public administration and safety, and manufacturing.
Value of agricultural production
In 2014–15, the gross value of agricultural production in the Western Australia – Wheat Belt region was $5 billion, which was 63 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Western Australia ($7.9 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 ($2 billion), followed by barley ($717 million) and canola ($618 million). These commodities together contributed 67 per cent of the total value of agricultural production in the region.
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
Western Australia – Wheat Belt region
Number of farms
% of Region
Number of farms
Contribution of region
to state total
Other Grain Growing
Grain-Sheep or Grain-Beef Cattle Farming
Beef Cattle Farming (Specialised)
Sheep Farming (Specialised)
Sheep-Beef Cattle Farming
Other Crop Growing nec
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
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.
Farm financial performance
Estimates of financial performance are available for all broadacre, dairy, and vegetable farms in Western Australia.
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.
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.
Areas of native forest, by tenure, Western Australia - Wheat Belt region
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.
Source: ABARES Australia's State of the Forests Report 2013
ABS 2011, Census of Population and Housing, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra.
Fletcher, W & Santoro, K (eds). 2012, Status Reports of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of Western Australia 2011–2012: The State of the Fisheries, Department of Fisheries, Western Australia.
Government of Western Australia 2013, Recreational Fishing Guide 2013 - simpler rules for better fishing, Department of Fisheries, Perth.
Henry, GW & Lyle, JM (eds) 2003, The National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey, FRDC project no. 99/158, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Canberra.