The growth of Northern Territory's (NT) agriculture, forestry and fishing industry is a useful indicator to reflect economic activity in the NT's regional and remote areas. It has important linkages to other sectors of the economy, including retail and wholesale trade, manufacturing and transport. In this section, analysis is provided on activity and production for live cattle and buffalo exports, as well as other livestock products and exports, horticulture, fisheries and forestry.
Economic contribution | Contribution to employment | Agriculture | Horticulture | Fisheries | Forestry | Explanatory Notes
The agriculture, forestry and fishing industry is a significant employer and source of economic activity in regional and remote areas of the NT. The industry has important linkages to other sectors of the economy, including retail and wholesale trade, manufacturing and transport. In the past few years, this industry has been performing below long-term averages reflecting a number of seasonal fluctuations and horticultural biosecurity setbacks, which affected production levels.
- In 2019-20, the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry contributed $649 million to the NT’s economy, down 5.9% from the previous year.
- As a percentage share of gross state product (GSP), the industry contributed 2.5% in 2019-20, equal to the 10‑year average.
- The industry’s output can, however, vary significantly from year to year due to changes in production as well as seasonal conditions, and changes in global and domestic demand for NT commodities.
Map 1: Northern NT Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing1 (click to enlarge)
Contribution to employment
- In 2020-21, employment in this industry fell by 0.3% and accounted for 1.8% of the total resident workforce in the Territory (2,407 employed) (Chart 1), above the 10‑year average (2,219 employed).
- In 2020, about 508,300 head of live cattle left the NT’s borders to both interstate and overseas destinations (Chart 2).
- This was a decrease of 40% (339,027 head of cattle) compared to 2019, coming off record interstate live cattle movements to Queensland, though partly offset by stronger international exports overall.
International Live Cattle Exports
- The NT exports live cattle to a number of countries, most of which are located in Asia (Chart 3).
- In 2020, international live cattle exports from the NT rose 7% to 273,325 head, despite reduced demand early in the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- In 2020, live cattle exports to Indonesia rose by 11.1% to 224,394 head, above the ten-year average of 209,362 head.
- In response to high prices for Australian cattle, Indonesia allowed the import of frozen buffalo meat in 2016 as a substitute for low value beef products. The Indonesian government also introduced a 5:1 feeder-breeder policy in late 2017, which was revised in July 2019 to require 5% of exported cattle be fertile breeders.
- In April 2020, the Indonesian Government issued import permits for 20,000 tonnes of beef from Brazil and Argentina as the country seeks to diversify its source markets.
Interstate Live Cattle
- In 2020, the number of NT cattle sent interstate fell 60.3% to 234,982 head (Chart 4).
- In 2020, the number of live cattle sent to the NT rose 135.1% to 136,867 head. This reflects a 165.3% increase from Western Australia (50,845 head) and a 133.1% increase from Queensland (82,939 head).
- The remaining live cattle came from South Australia (3,029 head) and New South Wales (54 head).
- In August 2018, boxed beef production in the NT ceased following the closure of Australian Agricultural Company’s (AACo) Livingstone abattoir outside of Darwin. This was mainly due to high cattle prices, falling demand and a tightening in supply.
- Major commercial production recommenced in December 2019 with the re-opening of Central Agri Group’s Batchelor abattoir plant.
- In 2020, the number of locally sourced-buffalo and cattle processed in the NT increased from 2,200 head to 7,061 head, although remaining below the peak of 56,545 head in 2017 when the AACo Livingstone abattoir was in operation.
- In 2019-20, revenue from the NT’s crocodile industry fell 11.1% to $23.8 million.
- Stricter grading standards were introduced in 2016-17, leading to a greater quantity of crocodile skins being classified as lower grade skins. Around 73.7% of revenue was generated from the production of first grade skins in 2019-20, compared to 57.7% in the previous year (Chart 5).
- Live buffalo exports in 2020 rose 8% to 10,833 head, reflecting increased exports to Indonesia (up by 122.1%) (Chart 6).
- Indonesia lifted its suspension of live buffalo exports from Australia in early 2017 and now accounts for 57.7% of total exports (6,252 head).
- The NT horticultural industry is comprised of fruit, vegetables, nursery products, turf and hay. Almost all production is sold interstate. According to the NT Farmers Association, the value of horticulture production in the NT (excluding forestry) rose by $63 million to $341 million in 2019.
- The total value of horticultural production for 2019 comprised:
- $128.8 million for mango production
- $69.4 million for melon production
- $61 million for vegetables
- $37.1 million for field crops and fodder
- $22.4 million for other fruits (including citrus, grapes, dates, tropical and exotic fruits)
- $15 million for nursery and turf production
- $9.5 million for NT market sales (Chart 7).
Threats to Horticulture production
Various exotic plant pests and diseases found in the NT are currently impacting the horticulture production for commercial fruit and vegetable growers:
- myrtle rust
- Asian honey bee
- European foulbrood
- browsing ants
- Dickeya zeae
Citrus canker was officially eradicated from the NT in April 2021. Biosecurity measures are currently transitioning to their original arrangements, allowing growers to move citrus plants and related products interstate without additional treatments or inspections.
In March 2020, fall armyworm moths were detected in agricultural areas around the NT. Fall armyworms are an invasive pest that is known to threaten more than 350 plant species, including maize, sorghum, corn, fruits and vegetables. The NT Government is working closely with other state and territory governments, industry groups and communities to manage this outbreak.
For more information, visit the Plant diseases and pests information page on the NT Department of Primary Industry and Resources (DPIR) website.
Crustacean production in the NT is dominated by prawns and mud crabs. Fish production largely comprises snapper, barramundi and mackerel. Aquaculture in the NT is primarily related to pearls and barramundi, with a small contribution from aquarium fish and spirulina production (the latter is used as a human diet supplement and a feed supplement in the aquaculture, aquarium and poultry industries). Reported data is the most recent available to date.
- As of April 2021, the commercial fishing industry had 227 commercial fishing and aquaculture licences (209 fishing, 18 aquaculture), 147 registered fishing vessels and harvested over 5,500 tonnes of fish and marine life each year. There was commercial activity in 14 different wild harvest fisheries.
- In 2019‑20, DITT reports the estimated value of wild caught fish in the NT fell 11.5% to $38 million (excluding prawns), with aquaculture products rising 13.7% to $47 million.
The Northern Prawn Fisheries (NPF) reports the number of prawn catches in northern Australia, in the area between Cape York in Queensland and Cape Londonderry in Western Australia. The NPF produces four common commercial species of prawns including white banana prawns, tiger prawns, eastern king prawns and endeavour prawns. The weather and ocean conditions, particularly the level of rainfall during the wet season, are very influential on the productivity of the fishery especially for banana prawns.
- In 2018-19, NPF reported the total catch of prawns in the NT was about 2,292 tonnes, up from 2,187 tonnes (Chart 7).
Plantation forestry is becoming an increasingly important industry and is currently the second largest production land user in the NT after cattle grazing, with more than 42,000 hectares of the NT currently used to produce forestry products in managed plantations. There are currently three plantation forestry projects in the NT:
- Acacia mangium plantations are being grown for woodchip exports on the Tiwi islands, managed by Midway Limited on behalf of the Tiwi Plantations Corporation on Melville Island. A total of 122,000 tonnes of Acacia woodchips were sold from the Tiwi Islands in 2019-20, down from 188,000 tonnes in 2018-19.
- African mahogany is being grown in the Douglas Daly and Katherine regions by African Mahogany Australia, and is the largest plantation estate of this species in the world. It is being grown for a high‑value, sawn timber market, which includes veneer boards, floor boards and feature grade timber. These plantations are currently in mid‑rotation, with a predicted rotation of 18 to 25 years.
- Indian Sandalwood is also grown in the Douglas-Daly and Katherine regions for oil and pharmaceuticals. These plantations are currently in mid-rotation and will not realise the bulk of their value for another four to five years.
- The analysis is based on estimates from surveys undertaken by DPIR, information from a survey undertaken by the NT Farmers Association in 2017, as well as preliminary data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on the value of agricultural commodities produced.
- Caution is advised when interpreting annual changes in the value of production for commodities reported in this chapter. This is due to changes in the scope and coverage of producers in the survey, changes in the level of detail on commodities reported by producers, large percentage changes from a small base and one‑off weather events occurring in the NT and adjoining states.
- For more data on agriculture, forestry and fishing, refer to DPIR's website.