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 2020-21, the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry contributed $924 million to the NT’s economy, up by 23.7% from the previous year.
- As a percentage share of gross state product (GSP), the industry contributed 3.6% in 2020-21, above the 10‑year average of 2.7%.
- 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 2021-22, employment in this industry fell by 18.6% and accounted for 1.5% of the total resident workforce in the Territory (1,955 employed) (Chart 1), above the 10‑year average (1,918 employed).
- In 2021, about 444,750 head of live cattle left the NT’s borders to both interstate and overseas destinations (Chart 2).
- This was a decrease of 29.4% (185,349 head of cattle) compared to 2020, with declines in both international and interstate exports.
International Live Cattle Exports
- The NT exports live cattle to a number of countries, most of which are located in Asia (Chart 3).
- In 2021, international live cattle exports from the NT fell by 14% to 235,108 head. The decline reflects a combination of reduced demand due to COVID-19, high Australian cattle prices flowing through to international markets, and low herd numbers in the Territory after several years of downsizing.
- In 2021, live cattle exports to Indonesia fell by 12.3% to 196,866 head, below the ten-year average of 206,696 head.
- In 2016, Indonesia allowed the import of frozen buffalo meat as a substitute for low value beef products, in response to high prices for Australian cattle. 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.
Interstate Live Cattle
- In 2021, the number of NT cattle sent interstate fell by 41.2% to 209,642 head (Chart 4).
- In 2021, the number of live cattle sent to the NT fell by 61.4% to 70,425 head. This reflects an 81.5% decrease from Queensland (to 19,516 head).
- Western Australia is now the largest source of interstate live cattle (48,001 head), ahead of Queensland for the first time since 2010.
- In December 2020, production ceased at Central Agri Group’s meat processing facility in Batchelor, and did not resume operation until July 2021.
- In 2021, overseas beef exports from the NT decreased from 875 tonnes in 2020 to 146 tonnes.
- Due to the increased competitiveness of buffalo products compared with cattle, overseas buffalo meat exports from the NT increased from 133 tonnes in 2020 to 185 tonnes in 2021.
- In 2020-21, revenue from the NT’s crocodile industry rose by 2.2% to $24.2 million.
- Stricter grading standards were introduced in 2016-17, leading to a greater quantity of crocodile skins being classified as lower grade skins. Around 79% of revenue was generated from the production of first grade skins in 2020-21, compared with 50% in 2016-17 (Chart 5).
- Live buffalo exports in 2021 were steady at 10,827 head, reflecting increased exports to Malaysia (up by 1,819 head) and Brunei (up by 1,610 head), along with decreased exports to Vietnam (down by 3,743 head) (Chart 6).
- Indonesia lifted its suspension of live buffalo exports from Australia in early 2017 and now accounts for 60.6% of total exports (6,560 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.
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.
In April 2022, mango shoot loopers were detected on a farm in the Darwin rural area, following earlier cases in Queensland last year. The pest feeds on mango tree leaves, shoots, flowers and immature fruit. It can also attack lychee trees, although there are no commercial lychee growers in the NT. The Australian Mango Industry Association is working to inform growers about the pest and available insecticides.
For more information, visit the Plant diseases and pests information page on the NT Government 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 2019-20, NPF reported the total catch of prawns in the NT was about 2,501 tonnes, up from 2,292 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 23,000 tonnes of Acacia woodchips were sold from the Tiwi Islands in 2020-21, down from 122,000 tonnes in 2019-20, reflecting demand and supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-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 three to four 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.