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 2018-19, the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry contributed $700 million to the NT’s economy.
- As a percentage share of gross state product (GSP), the industry contributed 2.6% in 2018-19, above the 10‑year average of 2.3%.
- 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 2018-19, employment in this industry rose 2.7% and accounted for 1.4% or 1,793 of the total resident workforce in the Territory, below the 10‑year average of 1.8%.
- Recent data shows employment in this industry decreased to 1,654 persons in the year to August 2019, representing 1.3% of the total resident workforce.
- The live cattle industry in the NT exports internationally and interstate. In 2018, about 580,654 live cattle were exported interstate and overseas (Chart 2).
- This was an increase of 44.9% (179,958 head of cattle) compared to 2017, driven by higher interstate live cattle movements to Queensland and a return to long-term international live cattle exports to Indonesia.
International Live Cattle Exports
- The NT exports live cattle to a number of countries, most of which are located in Asia (Chart 3).
- In 2018-19, international live cattle exports from the NT rose 1.0% to 237,041 head. The slowdown in growth in cattle exports was primarily due to a lack of rainfall over the NT wet season, higher operating costs and destocking by NT cattle station owners.
- In 2018-19, live cattle exports to Indonesia rose by 6.4% to 190,199 head, below a peak of 251,232 head in 2014.
- The drop is driven by Indonesia’s 5:1 feeder-breeder policy and competition from low-price substitutes. 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. In May 2018, Indonesia issued permits for 100,000 tonnes of frozen buffalo to be imported, which is equivalent to 500,000 head of live cattle, or about half of Indonesia’s total cattle imports.
Interstate Live Cattle
- In 2018, the number of NT cattle sent interstate rose 46.9% to 308,371 head (Chart 4).
- Parts of Queensland emerged from years of drought, which led to increased demand for NT cattle in 2018.
- Drought conditions in the Barkly region in the Territory and the loss of cattle in northern Queensland due to widespread floods, and Cyclone Trevor in early 2019 are expected to increase interstate cattle movements from the NT in the near term.
- In 2018, the number of live cattle sent to the NT fell 15.1% to 160,146 head.
- The majority of live cattle imports to the NT were from Queensland (up 81.1% to 129,886 head). The remaining live cattle came from Western Australia (26,543 head), South Australia (3,285 head), New South Wales (377 head) and Victoria (55 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.
However, production is expected to recommence in the third quarter of 2019 with the re-opening of Central Agri Group’s Batchelor abattoir plant.
- In 2017-18, revenue from the NT’s crocodile industry rose 2.8% to $23.7 million.
- Stricter grading standards were introduced in 2016-17, leading to a greater quantity of crocodile skins being classified as lower grade skins. Around 63.5% of revenue was generated from the production of first grade skins (Chart 4).
- Under the Crocodile Wildlife Trade Management Plan 2016‑2020, the annual harvest ceiling increased to 90,000 viable eggs and 1,200 animals a year, doubling the number of saltwater crocodiles that can be harvested from the wild.
- Live buffalo exports in 2018-19 fell 34.8% to 6,690 head to due poor northern wet season rainfall, increased competition from India and higher operating costs (Chart 5).
- Indonesia lifted its suspension of live buffalo exports from Australia in early 2017 and now accounts for 44.6% of total exports (2,186 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 fell by $2 million to $251 million in 2017.
- The total value of horticultural production for 2017 comprised:
- $112.8 million for mango production
- $42.0 million for melon production
- $38.4 million for Asian vegetables
- $17.7 million for nursery and turf production
- $17.7 million for other crop production
- $8.7 million for grape production
- $8.2 million for NT market sales
- $7.5 million for hay
- $5.5 million for other vegetables production (Chart 6).
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:
- Citrus canker
- Myrtle rust
- Asian honey bee
- European foulbrood
- Browsing ants
- Dickeya zeae
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 February 2019, the commercial fishing industry had more than 200 commercial fishing licences, 190 registered fishing vessels and harvested about 5,500 tonnes of fish and marine life each year. There was commercial activity in 15 different wild harvest fisheries.
- In 2016‑17, DPIR reports the estimated value of wild caught fish in the NT rose 17.9% to $37.3 million (excluding prawns), with aquaculture products rising 40.5% to $34.4 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 2017-18, NPF reported the total catch of prawns in the NT was about 2,187 tonnes, down from 3,832 tonnes the previous year due to poor weather conditions and lower prices (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 49,000 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 196,603 tonnes of Acacia woodchips were sold from the Tiwi Islands in 2017-18, with a total export value of around US$11.0 million.
- 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 rotations are in mid‑rotation but have a standing value of $100 million.
- Indian Sandalwood plantations are also grown in the Douglas-Daly and Katherine regions for oil and pharmaceuticals. All sandalwood plantations in the NT are still too young to be harvested and will not mature for more than a decade.
- 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.